Fall Ball Focus: Army Eyeing Open Positions as Fall Ball Heats Up


Reese Burek (29 goals, 15 assists in 2022) is being counted on to help lead Army's offense-by-committee.

Army made its share of headlines in 2022. The Black Knights toppled a downtrodden Syracuse team at the Dome in March, edged then-No. 4 Cornell in April and saw Brendan Nichtern be named a Tewaaraton Award finalist in May.

Also in May, Army saw its NCAA hopes dashed in a 14-10 loss to Boston University in the Patriot League title game. It marked the final game in an Army jersey for All-American midfielders Nichtern, Bobby Abshire and James Pryor. Defenders Jack Wegland, Bryan Lehman and Tyler Olbrich are also gone. Ditto for goalie Wyatt Schupler.

With so much talent gone, that loss to BU isn’t discussed much in the locker room.

“There are so many guys we are going to be relying on who were not on the field that day,” head coach Joe Alberici said. “We’re turning the page. There hasn’t been much discussion about that in fall ball. It’s more about competing for positioning on the depth chart.”

The losses of leading scorer Nichtern (41 goals, 60 assists) and Abshire (27 goals, nine assists), who helped the Black Knights score a program-record 225 goals in 2021, will be filled by committee.

“We don’t have the next Brendan Nichtern waiting in the wings,” Alberici said. “We probably don’t have the next Bobbie Abshire waiting in the wings, either.”

But Alberici is confident in the players who make up and lead said committee. Reese Burek (29 goals, 15 assists) and Paul Johnson (26 goals, 11 assists), now seniors, bring experience and an ability to score to the field. And they’re ready to step into more significant roles this season.

“They are going to have to slightly adjust their roles to be more playmakers,” Alberici said.

Jackson Eicher, who played in six games as a freshman, has also impressed this fall, as have first-years Gunnar Fellows and Avi Mehl.

In other words, despite losing an all-time great, the offense isn’t much of a question mark at West Point. But there are others. Alberici gave some early insights on answers.


The Black Knights went 6-2 in league play, falling only to Lehigh (11-10) and Navy (12-11). They beat Boston University 15-14 on the final day of the regular season. BU still earned the top seed into the Patriot League Championship, with Army coming in at No. 2. Home-field advantage was key for the Terriers, who earned the league’s automatic qualifier with a championship-game win.

“The overall message from that day is that if you are going to be a champion, you have to play like a champion,” Alberici said. “Not to take anything away from BU, but we didn’t feel like we played like champions on that day.”


Who will win the goalie battle?

The loss of Nichtern may be fillable by committee, but it’s more challenging to do that in the net that Schupler (11.22 GAA, .511 SV %) has left open.

Knox Dent (9.30 GAA, .692 SV %), last year’s backup, is the leading contender. Though he only played about 26 minutes total, Alberici was impressed by how Dent, an athletic goalie with a knack for jumpstarting the transition game with solid outlets, practiced and pushed Schupler.

“He finished the season very, very well,” Alberici said. “We had a lot of faith in him. If Wyatt was to go down, we felt strongly about our No. 2 spot.”

But now, junior Matt Chess and sophomore Bennett Ong are pushing Dent. Chess, who played against NJIT in February, is the more cerebral of the two. Ong is a solid stopper who, at times, has looked like the best goalie on the roster — Alberici and the staff are working with him on consistency.


Long stick midfielder Ryan Nixon, who saw action in nine games as a freshman, is a name people will likely hear more of in 2023 — particularly opposing attackmen in scouts. With a large contingent of the defense gone, Alberici will look to Nixon.

“He’s an exceptional playmaker to create some discomfort for offenses,” Alberici said. “He’s intuitive in creating double teams. He gets the ball up off the ground very well.”


John Sullivan arrives in West Point from Bishop Guertin (N.H.) High School. The 6-3 righty has impressed early, and Alberici wouldn’t be surprised to see him see significant playing time in 2023.

“He brings a strong ability to cover the ball,” he says. “He gets it off the ground very well, too. He’s shown well in the fall.”


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