Practice pennies, neon green laces, new faces and the promise of a new season not far off -- all signs point to fall ball, college lacrosse's annual rite of initiation.
With 2010 in the books and 2011 in mind, LMO's "Fall Ball Blitz" series checks in with coaches and players around the country for the latest developments.
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Boltus, Thul Make Army Dangerous Again
by Matt DaSilva | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff
Bull-dodging attackman Garret Thul returned to West Point "leaner and quicker" following his 41-goal freshman campaign, Army coach Joe Alberici said, a good sign for the Black Knights.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com
The Army men’s lacrosse team has a dangerous affinity for living and dying on the edge.
The Black Knights’ 9-8, first-round victory over two-time defending national champion Syracuse -- capped dramatically by Devin Lynch’s goal with 5.7 seconds remaining in double overtime -- was no doubt the biggest upset in Division I men’s lacrosse last spring and one of the greatest upsets in NCAA tournament history.
Head coach Joe Alberici became an instant media darling for masterminding the coup, including nationally as a guest on ESPN Radio and ESPN’s morning show, “First Take.” But no one would have blamed Alberici if at the time he did not believe it possible for Army to win in a one-goal game and silence the Carrier Dome. From 2008 to 2010, the Black Knights had one stretch in which they lost nine of 10 games decided by a goal. They included some moral victories in losses to great teams and head-scratching losses to lesser teams.
“At the time, it felt like there were things we could do to give us a legit shot at beating them,” Alberici said Monday as Army entered its second week of fall ball. “We were fortunate in a lot of ways. It’s almost gotten bigger over the summer. It was a great win, a signature moment for our program for sure. In NCAA tournament history, that probably ranks up there with the bigger wins.”
But the luster lasts only so long.
“That’s a great memory, but not one we plan on living off of in 2011,” Alberici said. “I’m pretty sure nobody we play in 2011 really cares about that game. Neither can we.”
Before getting too gaga with expectations, consider that Army was 3-5 entering April, with losses to teams like Air Force and Bryant. Perhaps it was the unlikely uniform -- Army donned black helmets and shorts with home white jerseys for the first time in three years -- but something happened April 3.
The Black Knights got their swagger back.
They beat Colgate, 11-10, in overtime. It was their first OT victory in four years. That started a string of four straight one-goal victories, including a cathartic 7-6 triumph of archrival Navy at M&T Bank Stadium. Army busted up Bucknell and sunk Navy again for the Patriot League title before taking down Syracuse -- by one goal -- in the NCAAs.
The Black Knights had flipped the lid on their one-goal woes.
“I think our guys have a pretty good realization right now that we live in a one-goal world. I don’t know what the secret was exactly,” Alberici said, other than practicing with a clock on the field to simulate late-game pressure. “We just kind of got it going.”
It didn’t hurt that Jeremy Boltus and Garret Thul got it going in a big way. Army knew what it had in Boltus, a playmaker who had 29 goals and 38 assists. Thul, a 6-foot-4 freshman, was a lesser-known entity. But he quieted doubters with a monster 41-goal campaign.
Thul, listed at 225 pounds, has returned to West Point this fall “leaner and quicker than he was,” according to Alberici. With Ryan Hurley leaving Rob Pannell without his favorite target at Cornell and both Ned Crotty and Max Quinzani gone at Duke, Army might boast the nation’s best 1-2 attack combo in 2011 with Boltus, a senior, and Thul back in the fold.
FALL BALL BLITZ
2010 Record: 11-6 (6-0 in Patriot League)
2010 in Review: The Black Knights stumbled to a 1-4 start, but rebounded with an eight-game winning streak that stretched through the Patriot League tournament and culminated in a 9-8, double-overtime upset of two-time defending national champion Syracuse in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Army could not sustain its momentum, however, and petered out in a 14-5 loss to Cornell in the quarterfinals.
Goodbye… Andrew Maisano. He started 17 games, never put up huge numbers, but was an invaluable leader. “There’s definitely some holes in leadership,” Alberici said. “[The seniors] did a fine job leading us through some turbulent times and keeping us on track when we got things going. That’s a big question mark.” Tyler Seymour (23g) is Army’s only significant statistical contributor missing from last year’s team.
Hello… Alex Carros. Alberici said this freshman is the antithesis of Thul. “He’s 5-foot-nothing, and if he goes 150 pounds, that might be generous,” Alberici said. “But he’s got great quickness and is off to a good start here in the fall, helping us offensively on attack and midfield.” Karros gained a reputation as a gamer at South River (Md.), notching 46 points (30g, 16a) his senior year and adding 27 points in the 2009 playoffs.
Offseason Developments: Defenseman Bill Henderson will miss fall ball after undergoing offseason wrist surgery, but is expected to be fine for the spring. “Other than that, we’re kind of who we were last year,” Alberici said. Keep an eye on Army’s new athletic director hire, though. Kevin Anderson, a lacrosse advocate, took the job vacated by Debbie Yow at Maryland. “It’s concerning when you lose somebody like that, somebody that’s had lacrosse as a priority at your school and made decisions that reflect his feelings towards the program,” Alberici said. “Hopefully, the lacrosse program will continue to thrive under the next administration too.”
Big Question: Is Derek Sipperly the answer on faceoffs? It certainly looked that way in the postseason. Sipperly was Army’s No. 2 faceoff man most of the season before turning in an 11-for-18 performance in the NCAA tournament win at Syracuse and going 11-for-21 in the quarterfinal loss to Cornell. Alberici hopes Sipperly can get the Black Knights closer to the 60-percent mark on faceoffs.
Fall Schedule: Army’s fall ball preparations culminate Oct. 9 with scrimmages against Georgetown and Virginia in Play for Parkinson’s Lacrosse at Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Va. Princeton will also participate in the event.