Fall Snapshot: Army West Point Black Knights

(Photo Courtesy of Army West Point Athletics)

Welcome to the Fall Snapshot series. Throughout the fall I will be taking an early look at all 75 DI men’s college lacrosse teams and giving a snapshot of where each is heading into the 2023 season.

Head Coach: Joe Alberici (18th year, 2006-present)

Army West Point 2022 Record: 12-4 (6-2 Patriot League)

Key Departures: Brendan Nichtern (A), Bobby Abshire (M), James Pryor (SSDM), Jack Weigand (D), Wyatt Schupler (G)

Key Returners: Reese Burek (A), Paul Johnson (A), Jacob Morin (M), Will Coletti (FO), AJ Pilate (D)

The Army Black Knights are coming off a season in 2022 in which they were one game away from returning to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2019 as they fell to Boston U. 14-10 in the Patriot League title game.

Army began last season with a narrow victory over UMass before suffering a loss against Rutgers; which would be one of just four defeats on the season for the Black Knights. Their 12-4 record was highlighted by a win in the Carrier Dome against Syracuse, as well as big victories against Loyola, Cornell, and Boston U. down the stretch of the regular season.

Heading into 2023, the Black Knights will be looking to remain a serious threat in the Patriot League and be vying for a spot in the NCAA Tournament. And while they graduated 19 seniors a year ago, including multiple major pieces on both ends, the talent shown by multiple underclassmen last spring should only be a positive sign for Joe Alberici’s squad.

Burning Questions

How Will The New-look Army Offense Perform?

Of the 19 seniors lost from a year ago, six were top-10 scorers. The most impactful loss by far is Brendan Nichtern. The program’s all-time leader in career points and goals, he had a 101-point senior season that earned him a trip to Washington, D.C. as a Tewaaraton Finalist. And while Nichtern is the biggest loss of them all, the simultaneous exits of Bobby Abshire, Danny Kielbasa, Gunnar Philipp, Bo Waters, and Aiden Byrnes means this Black Knights’ offense loses a total of 195 points and 112 goals.

With Nichtern at the helm and the deep supporting cast around him, the Black Knights were the 12th best scoring offense in college lacrosse (14.06 goals per game) and, per Lacrosse Reference, ranked 13th nationally in offensive efficiency (34%). Army also had a team shooting percentage of 30% and a turnover rate of 31% (14th best in DI). All in all, the Black Knights were one of the more efficient and consistent offenses in college lacrosse last season.

Reese Burek (29G/15A), Paul Johnson (26G/11A), and Jacob Morin (27G/2A) are the returning core of this offense. With those three at the center, the question remains how exactly this unit will form and look around them as a whole in 2023?

Who’s The Next Goalie at West Point?

There is a strong tradition of defense at Army and within that is a strong tradition of strong goalie play as the Black Knights are of the few programs that can seamlessly transition from one man to the next when it comes to finding a starter in between the pipes. The Black Knights will be undergoing that transition once again this season with the graduation of three-year starter Wyatt Schupler.

Schupler made 180 saves with a 51.1% save percentage while backstopping a defense that allowed 11.1 goals per game. He ends his career at West Point with a grand total of 394 saves with a 57% save percentage. Replacing Schupler will be a difficult task for sure. The Black Knights will have four returning goalies who will all be fighting for that starting spot.

Senior Knox Dent saw the most action of any backup last season, playing in four games and making seven saves with a 69.2% save percentage. Mitch Gutgsell and Bennett Ong saw minimal action as freshmen in 2022, as did junior Matt Chess. Sean Byrne and Evan Richardson will be coming in from a year at USMAPS.

What’s The Ceiling (and floor) For Army?

Maybe the biggest and broadest question of all is just simply what this team will be. Losing key players like Nichtern and Schupler on both ends is a massive hit to a program that has remained pretty steady throughout its history, and especially so during Joe Alberici’s tenure. Does this Black Knights squad remain a contender in the Patriot League or do they have a season more along the lines of what happened during their 2018 campaign (which I should add was followed by that spectacular 2019 season)?

The Patriot League looks like it will be pretty open next spring. There is no clear-cut favorite at this point. However, the usual suspects of Loyola, Lehigh, Navy, and likely defending champion Boston U. will be in that crop competing at the top. Army should be expected to be in that group as usual, but just how high can this team go? In turn, that will all depend on how well they patch the holes. And if they don’t patch those holes, how far could they fall?

Potential Breakout Player

Ryan Sposito, Midfield, Junior

With much to replace on the offensive end, Sposito could very well step in and be a productive asset at the midfield for the Black Knights in 2023. The grandson of the late, legendary Cornell head coach Richie Moran, Sposito netted his first career hat trick against the Big Red last season. He only scored in one other game (vs Boston U.) while also having two assists on the season.

Freshman Class

The Black Knights bring in a smaller freshman class than the other two service academies with just seven players in the 2022 class (Note: That does not include players who spent this past year at USMAPS). Rated as four-stars by Inside Lacrosse, midfielder Grant Masterson (Wilton, Conn.) and LSM Keegan Tracy (St. Paul’s, Md.) help to headline the class.

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