2022 NCAA Lacrosse Preview: No. 13 Army (Men)

PHOTO BY RICH BARNES

Bobby Abshire had 16 goals and five assists in 2021.


The 2022 college lacrosse season is nearly upon us. As is our annual tradition, we’re featuring every team ranked in the Nike/USA Lacrosse Preseason Top 20.

Check back to USALaxMagazine.com each weekday this month for new previews, scouting reports and rival analysis.

NO. 13 ARMY

2021 Record: 7-4 (5-2 Patriot)
Final Ranking (2021): No. 12
Coach: Joe Alberici (16th year)

The Army men’s lacrosse team features cadets from 15 different states. It consists of nine attackmen, 32 midfielders, 15 defensemen, five goalies and the same number of faceoff specialists. There’s even one Space Science major.

In the eyes of Army head coach Joe Alberici, there’s another digit that exceeds all those distinctions: 19. That’s how many seniors will lead the Black Knights this spring.

“The impact that this group will have will probably be the heaviest in my time,” Alberici said. “That number could reach up to 15 to 16 seniors playing pretty big roles.”

Their presence at West Point takes on added significance in the age of the transfer portal and in light of the NCAA’s ruling to grant an extra year of eligibility for those on spring sport rosters in 2020. Service academies did not benefit from the added eligibility. Despite the opportunity to gain another year elsewhere, much of Army’s class of 2022 remained.

They have experience elevating the program to new heights. Seven members from the class played meaningful minutes in 2019, when the Black Knights won the Patriot League tournament for the first time in nine years and second time in program history. Brendan Nichtern ignited the Army attack with three goals and three assists to prevail 11-7 in the conference tournament final that year over Lehigh despite a 5-3 halftime deficit.

A captain last season as a junior, Nichtern was named the Patriot League’s 2021 Offensive Player of the Year after he led the Black Knights in all offensive categories. He finished sixth in the country with 2.82 assists per game.

NIKE/USAL PRESEASON TOP 20
TEAM PREVIEWS

1. Virginia

2. Maryland

3. Duke

4. Georgetown

5. Notre Dame

6. North Carolina

7. Loyola

8. Yale

9. Penn

10. Rutgers

11. Lehigh

12. Denver

13. Army

14. Syracuse

15. Johns Hopkins

16. Delaware

17. Drexel

18. Cornell

19. Vermont

20. Bryant

Marcus Hudgins earned Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year honors. A USA Lacrosse Magazine preseason first-team All-American, he serves as Nichtern’s counterpart on the other end of the field. The two try to line up against each as much as possible in practice.

“There’s a real appreciation on both of their parts for the other guy and the skills and competitiveness they both possess,” Alberici said. “They’re two of our most competitive guys and really bring out the best in each other.”

While Nichtern and Hudgins operate as the program’s cornerstones, seniors will lead from nearly everywhere on the field. There’s goalie Wyatt Schupler, who had the 10th-best save percentage in the country last spring. There’s Aidan Byrnes at attack (19 goals, five assists) plus Bobby Abshire (16 goals, five assists) and Gunner Phillip (12 goals, one assist) in the midfield, who all proved to be more than capable scoring threats last season. Besides Nichtern, who’s in his second year wearing the “C,” there’s captains Danny Kielbasa, who had nine goals and six assists out of the midfield, and Jack Weigand at defense. An indication of the class’s depth, there are even more contributors than we can list here.

After falling short of making the NCAA tournament last spring despite a resounding win over Syracuse, which made the 16-team field, Alberici said he was extremely impressed with how the seniors led during the fall. They never let the team get comfortable and helped instill “championship habits” that range from focused effort to attention to communication.

Heading into 2022, the Black Knights know there’s strength in numbers.

“They stayed the course and stuck together,” Alberici said of the senior class. “I think it's a great testament to the Army lacrosse family that they didn’t want to let each other down. They put together a solid year last year. The hopes for them and for our program is to make this one the best one yet.”







TOP RETURNERS

Brendan Nichtern, A, Sr.

An All-American since his freshman season, Nichtern was named the Patriot League offensive player of the year in 2021 after he led the Black Knights in goals (26), assists (31) and points (57). Besides Nichtern’s leadership abilities, which Alberici described as exceptional, he’s most impressed with how the captain has continued to develop the subtler elements of his game, from his finishing ability, to riding and working without the ball in his stick.

Marcus Hudgins, D, Sr.

In his first full season at close defense for the Black Knights, Hudgins continued to wow his coaches and opponents alike. Named the Patriot League’s defensive player of the year, Hudgins’ 2.09 caused turnovers per game ranked 10th-best in the nation. Though humble in nature, Hudgins sets the tone with his play for the unit that was D-I’s fifth-best scoring defense in 2021.

Wyatt Schupler, G., Sr.

A year after bursting onto the scene as a sophomore starter, Schupler made the All-Patriot League’s second team last spring on the back of a .569 save percentage. His 9.3 goals against average ranked eighth best in all of D-I.

KEY ADDITION

AJ Pilate, D., Fr.

A Massapequa (H.S.) alum like Nichtern, Pilate shares a relentless competitive drive. He’s also proven a quick study on the defensive end. “I don’t think we’ve had to tell him anything twice,” Alberici said. “He has a great understanding of the game.”

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE

Reese Burek, M., Jr.

A native of Fairport (N.Y.), where he was a four-year varsity player, Burek has only one collegiate goal on his resume. Expect that to change quickly this season.

ENEMY LINES

What rival coaches say about the Black Knights:

“I think Army’s better than Lehigh coming into this year. Army probably returns the best attackman possibly in the league. I think he could be a first-team All-American. Hudgins could be a first-team All-American defenseman. They’re good in the goal. They’re a solid team. When you watch Army play, all their middies look alike. They’re solid. They’re strong. They know who they are. They play within they’re identity. You have a couple guys who might almost be some of the best at their positions, so it makes them a very, very dangerous team.”

BEYOND THE BASICS
POWERED BY LACROSSE REFERENCE

17-2

The Black Knights ended 2021 with their highest LaxElo rating (1702) and ranking (No. 12). It was largely on the strength of a defensive unit that ranked No. 3 nationally in opponent-adjusted efficiency. (Who remembers that Syracuse game?) With Brendan Nichtern continuing in the distributor role, it feels like the offense is a finisher (or two) away from being able to keep pace with the defense. That would make for a scary combo in the Patriot League.  — Zack Capozzi

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