Jan. 25, 2012
by Casey Vock, Inside Lacrosse
No matter their record, the Black Knights from West Point are one of the toughest - both physically and mentally - and best-conditioned teams in Division I year after year. Now more than two weeks into practices to start the 2012 season, coach Joe Alberici is certain that he has a group of players who are as committed to success as any that he's seen at the academy.
The team will take on a different look in 2012, with the team losing three All-Americans in Tewaaraton finalist Jeremy Boltus, defender Billy Henderson and standout netminder Tom "Big Tex" Palesky. The team also saw former assistant Mike Murphy accept the head coaching position at Colgate, opening the door for the hire of Kyle Georgalas.
Despite some significant personnel movement, Alberici expects to field a team that will embody the gritty, determined character that has defined Black Knights squads of recent seasons.
"We believe in our system, we believe we can do what we have to do, and we have the kind of players to do the things we've done in the past," Alberici said. "Some of these guys just needed to realize it, that now they have to take on greater roles."
1. Maybe stronger than 2012:
Though it might seem like the Knights will be rebuilding this season, that's not the talk at Army's practices. Expectations are high among the staff and players, and Alberici believes the team has the potential to put a better overall team on the field than it did last year.
"Diversified - that's the best way to put it," Alberici said. "Not that we weren't last year, but we played more to our strengths. I think we may be able to put more quality players on the field. Maybe there's not a first-team All-American like Jeremy (Boltus) was, but we might be able to get a greater number of quality players on the field. "
2. Look for more initiation from the Army midfield in 2012:
The Black Knights staff has been working with Garrett Thul (42G, 3A) to develop his passing game, helping mold him into more of a quarterback. The preseason third-team All-American will shoulder much of the burden, but possibly less of it as time goes on, thanks not only to capable support in now-healthy senior Connor Hayes (12, 2), but with more dodging from the Black Knights midfield.
"There will be more initiation from midfield," Alberici said. "We're not getting away from it down below. But I think we should be pretty athletic at the midfield, maybe even more than we were in recent years, but it will be with some kids that not a lot of people know a lot about right now."
A few of those names include senior captain Devin Lynch (14,8), who netted the game winner in Army's postseason upset of Syracuse in 2010, juniors Pat Brennan (5, 6) and Alex Van Krevel (4), sophomore middie Tyler Kamide, who was bogged down by injury as a freshman, and freshman John Glesener.
"Those are some of the guys you'll see step up, or that we need to step up," Alberici said. "Devin has been there for us, and he's probably poised to take his game to the next level."
3. The Army defense returns plenty:
Alberici plans on making adjustments to the offense as the season progresses, but he may not have to tinker with the defense too much. Returning All-American and senior captain Tim Henderson (5G, 45GB, 18CT) is a preseason second-team All-American, and there's no questioning his ability to create turnovers and spark transition - boons to the 2012 Army team.
The Black Knights, picked to finish third in the Patriot League, boast five preseason All-Conference picks, three at defensive positions. In addition to Henderson, the defense will benefit greatly from the presence of Larry LoRusso (18GB, 11CT) and Matt Hurley (3, 1), a two-way player and standout short-stick defender.
"We're not retooling there," Alberici said of the defense. "With Billy (Henderson) going down last year, we just had to thrust guys into bigger roles. ... Guys like Brandon Buckley, Drew Kearns, Pat Hart - we have guys who saw significant playing time and we'll be better for it."
In net, there will of course be a new face, but it's likely to be senior Zach Palmieri (5.12 GAA, 67%), who coaches say is building is confidence, stepping forward as the likely replacement to Palesky, whom he backed up for three seasons.
4. It's Patriot League title or bust for this team:
Taking a game-by-game approach, the Black Knights know what they'll be up against in the Patriot League, and they're looking to improve each week leading up to conference play.
"Our goal is to win the Patriot League - I'm not going to tell you anything other than that," Alberici said of his team's aspirations. "But we don't really talk about those games yet. We're just trying to get better ourselves. With UMass coming up, and after them beating us last year, we're doing our best to be ready for that and come out firing on all cylinders."
In a conference expected to be competitive as usual, Alberici and company know they have their work cut out for them, and the head coach realizes that Bucknell, Colgate, Lehigh and Navy will be tough match-ups in 2012.
"The guys are committed to what we're after here," Alberici said. "They've remained competitive. Their effort and focus has been strong, and those things stand out to me."
5. Leadership is defined at the US Military Academy
When Mike Murphy spoke at the IMLCA Convention in December, discussing his coaching career, he referred to being amazed by the character and leadership qualities of the players he'd been able to coach while at Army. Echoing the thoughts of his formers assistant, Alberici said not a day that goes by that he's not thankful to be leading a program that attracts a special kind of player, a certain type of person.
"I'll say this: I count my blessings every day that I get to be involved with these young men," Alberici said. "Everything people say about the quality of people here is true. I count myself fortunate to be their head coach. These are guys who are respectful, that understand the meaning of hard work. There is a belief among the players in each other, and they've done so much to make this a family unit. ... We don't spend a lot of time here patting each other on the back. But no one takes those things for granted. We stress that we need to show leadership and poise on a daily basis, so that in crunch time, it shows."
Best Bet: Taken 35th overall in the Major League Lacrosse draft by the Rochester Rattlers to start the year, Tim Henderson will finish the year as one of the nation's top long-stick defenders, and one of the great defensive leaders on a Division I field in 2012. "The team gets a lot of energy from Tim," Alberici said. "I'm excited to have him here. He's had a pretty darn good career and I think he's poised to have his best year yet."
Under the radar: John Glesener's 2011 season was spent with the Army Prep team, putting him a bit out of the media spotlight after coming out of West Genesee as a top recruit. But now the 6-0, 190-pound middie is about to make his impact at the next level after impressing coaches in his prep year and during fallball, likely securing a spot on the first midfield line. "He hasn't disappointed one bit," Alberici said. "He's been very good in early seasons practices, and he's one of a few guys who'll have to play a big role for us."
Game to watch: vs. UMass, Feb. 11