Barretto, Jones Will Keep Army in Patriot League Hunt


Army goalie AJ Barretto "can be one of the best stoppers in the nation," according to one rival coach.

US Lacrosse Magazine released the Nike/US Lacrosse Division I Men’s Preseason Top 20 on Jan. 8. Team-by-team previews will be unveiled on throughout January and will also appear as part of the magazine’s NCAA preview edition that mails to US Lacrosse members Feb. 1 — opening day of the 2018 college lacrosse season.

No. 15 Army

2017 Record: 12-4 (6-2 Patriot League)
Coach: Joe Alberici (13th year)
All-Time Record: 769-377-7
NCAA Appearances: 16
Final Fours: 2
Championships: 0

In one of the toughest conferences in college lacrosse, Army has come close to unseating Loyola as the perennial Patriot League power.

With two top-five wins last season, including a stunner over Syracuse and an OT thriller against Notre Dame in the finale, the Black Knights picked up steam. But they stumbled in conference play, falling twice to Loyola.

Army graduated some key players, such as Dan Grabher (63 percent on faceoffs) and Cole Johnson (29 goals, 19 assists), but enough players return for it not to be a drastic concern. Among them is junior AJ Barretto, who might be the best goalie in the Patriot League.

At least, the Black Knights need him to be.

 “He’s going to have to be outstanding,” coach Joe Alberci said. “We’ve also lost some people on defense, a big one in Reece Klipstein. We’ll ask more from A.J. in terms of communication.”

The Case For Army

The Black Knights haven’t lost too much. Cole Johnson is a blow to the offense, but there’s a lot of returning talent.

“It’s a bit by committee,” Albereci said. “Cole was a special player, and somebody who could put pressure on anybody’s no. 1 defender. He’ll be a big miss at attack.

Nate Jones is the guy, along with David Symmes, who’s going to be relied upon the most after scoring 27 goals last season as a sophomore.

“The last couple of years, he’s been at the end of the rainbow,” Albereci said. “He’s caught the ball and is a very efficient scorer. He’s going to have to look to control tempo a little bit for us.”

The Case Against Army

The Black Knights are a possession team. Dan Grabher was one of the best faceoff specialists in a conference full of talent at the draw. Garnering possessions and turning them into transition offense is going to much more of a struggle. For a team that averaged six goals in their last five games, that’s a major concern.

Path to the Playoffs

The Patriot League is tough. Army lost to Loyola twice at the end of last season, and they’re going to have to beat the Greyhounds if they want to ascend to the top the conference.

Patriot League teams tend to beat each other up, and that means more losses for good teams. It’s tough to make the NCAA tournament as an at-large qualifier. Loyola is the class of the conference, Navy is always a threat, and Boston University is still nipping at their heels. Holy Cross and Lehigh always cause trouble. The conference is far from a given for anyone in it.

Players To Watch

Nate Jones, A, Jr.
27 G, 6 A

Instead of being the scorer down low, Jones will run the offense. “He’s going to have to create in the right matchups,” Alberici said. “His role is expanding, and he understands that. He’s grown his game.”

John Ragno, FO, Sr.
16-for-32, 20 GB

Ragno takes over as the primary faceoff specialist, but he also has to earn the spot. If he struggles, there will be a quick hook with other guys chomping at the bit.

“During our fall scrimmage, we had a chance to test it out a little bit,” Alberici said. “It’s going to be by committee, but Ragno will lead the way.”

The Black Knights would love to see the senior Ragno take the position, and he’ll get every chance.

AJ Barretto, G, Jr.
8.47 GAA, 50.8 SV%

Barretto is the most important player for the Black Knights this season. If he struggles, they won’t get very far. It’s all the more important for a team that has been depleted at key positions.

“One of the understated parts of A.J.’s game is what he provides outside the goal, in terms of our clearing game and ability to steal a possession just from instinctive play around the goal, ” Alberici said. “We’re going to continue to count on him.”

National Rankings




Offense 28th 10.63 GPG
Defense 7th 8.19 GAA
Faceoffs 5th 61.4%
Ground Balls 4th 33.50/game
Caused TO 25th 7.13/game
Shooting 46th 27.2%
Man-Up 47th 31.8%
Man-Down 41st 62.9%
Assists 45th 5.44/game
Turnovers 19th 12.19/game
Clearing 28th 87.8%

Power Ratings (Scale of 1-5)






Army’s faceoff winning percentage last season, thanks to Grabher.

The entire Patriot League is losing faceoff star power. Sam Talkow missed his senior season at BU, Navy lost Brady Dove, and now Grabher is gone.

Ragno is projected to jump in on the dot, but it’s going to be a lot different without Grabher, who could also contribute offense.  

“He was a nine- to 10-point scorer as a faceoff guy,” said Alberici, who instead must rely on a more efficient offense that values possession. “We just have to be more detailed in fundamentals than we’ve ever been.”

Other guys will get a chance, but it’s Ragno’s job for the taking.

Ragno looks to be the guy who comes to the front,” Alberici said. “It will clearly be more by committee than it’s been before. We’ve got a host of guys, Anthony George and Kyle Byer, who are all going to contribute.”

5-Year Trend




2013 8-6 .571
2014 9-5 .643
2015 10-7 .588
2016 10-7 .588
2017 12-4 .750

Coach Confidential
Joe Alberici

“The key is balance. You just have to be as balanced as possible. When somebody doesn’t have that great night for you, there has to be others who step up.”

Enemy Lines
Rival Coaches

“What can be better motivation for offseason training than being abandoned by the NCAA playoff selection committee? ‘Big wins get you in.’ Not the case in 2017. …  They will no longer have the luxury of FO domination (Dan Grabher 63%) nor Cole Johnson (most underrated elite attackman in the nation), but they are literally reloading the arsenal up in West Point. David Symmes and Ted Glesener are back at midfield, while Nate Jones is a tremendous goal scorer. ... AJ Barretto can be one of the best stoppers in the nation. He needs to be a bit more consistent. ... Key will be finding a faceoff replacement and creating offense from the attack as Johnson did. ... Joe Alberici is building something great north of NYC.”

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