Sunday, May 7, 2017

Quick Thoughts: Army Men's Lacrosse vs. Notre Dame

Yesterday's Army Men's Lacrosse finale was one of the most exciting games I've ever attended at Michie Stadium.  I took my daughter Hannah and her friend Ciara up to yesterday's game, and as you may imagine, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

With the girls at American Burrito just outside Thayer Gate yesterday before the game.

Army Lax is in its 100th season, but though the program has been a perennial powerhouse, I am personally still new to the sport.  The Army Athletics office sent us free tickets to last year's Army-Navy lacrosse game when we re-upped our football season tickets, and that got me and my daughter Hannah interested in the sport.  We've followed the team closely in the months since, and when we re-upped our tickets again this year, we made plans to attend yesterday's game against the Fighting Irish.

Black Knights' Alley
At the same, Hannah's friend Ciara started played lacrosse last year, slowly but surely working her way up to starting defense on the Stratford girls' travel team.  Ciara and her team attended a Women's Lax game last week at Michie, and she's now mad to go to the Academy.  She was therefore an obvious choice to accompany us to yesterday's game.

We made plans to get to West Point early, tour a bit, and then walk up to the stadium.  I have one of the fancy new Alumni permanent passes, which theoretically allows us to go pretty much anywhere on post, including into the Cadet Areas.  We therefore stopped at American Burrito just off post, grabbed a light lunch, drove up to Trophy Point, and parked.  We sat on one of the stone benches overlooking the river and ate while cadets from the Fine Arts Club put on a semi-formal acoustic rock concert at one of the adjacent buildings.  This reminded me strongly of my own cadet days, when guys from our class would play as an impromptu garage band down at the Firstie Club on Fridays and Saturday nights.  Those same guys played a set again at our 20th reunion a couple of years ago.

Pre-game "Go Army!"
The opening face-off
From Trophy Point, we walked down past Doubleday Field to the library and Patton's statue and then across the Apron.  I had to show my pass to the guard, but he let us by and then we were off.  As we walked, I answered a few of Ciara's questions, including when she asked about the cadets walking punishment tours in Central Area.  I decided NOT to take the girls into the Cadet Areas, but we saw them through the sallyports, which was enough to generate a little discussion.  From there we walked past Arvin Gym, up the stone stairs, and then up the hill to the stadium.  Black Knights Alley was in full pre-game mode, complete with the Benny Havens Jazz band and various kid-friendly activities.  We saw a good number of people out on the streets, and in fact, this game would prove to be one of the most well-attended non-football events I've ever seen at West Point.

Owing to my new, upgraded status in the Army "A" Club, we had great seats.  We were in Section 12, row T, seats 37 through 39.  This put us right at midfield at arguably the optimum distance from the action, though on the opposite side from the team benches.  The stands were maybe 3/4 filled on both sides, with a good number of Notre Dame fans in attendance, though the end zone bleachers and the upper decks weren't open, nor were most of the concession stands.  Still, this was a lot of folks for a college lacrosse game.  Easily twice as many as Army put in the stands for last year's Army-Navy Lax game.  Seems like a good sign for Army Athletics going forward.

The day started overcast but dry with temperatures in the mid-60s.  Army has a very good face-off man in Dan Grabher, but they lost the few few face-offs in row, and that let Notre Dame get on a 3-0 run in the first quarter.  The problem really wasn't Grabher, though.  Army wasn't fighting for position around the face-off, so the Irish were getting every loose ball that came squirting out of the scrum.  Similarly, the Black Knights were occasionally able to control possession and get decent shots in the first quarter, but they couldn't get anything past the Irish goalie.  Meanwhile, Notre Dame was finding quick goals from around behind the net owing to their own team quickness and raw speed.

Things did not look good.

Rain started with the second quarter, and that scattered most of the Fighting Irish fans.  What had previously been a mixed crowd became solidly pro-Army while the Irish themselves seemed to struggle with the deteriorating conditions.  Army began playing a more physical game at this point, boxing out attackers around the face-off and winning balls.  Army exchanged goals with the Irish, putting the score at 4-1, but then they went on something like a five-goal run.  The harder it rained, the better the Black Knights played, so that we headed to halftime with a 7-5 lead!
The rain cleared during halftime, and as the third quarter started, we saw our first glimpse of the sun.  Notre Dame fought back to even the score, and from there we had an exciting, back-and-forth affair, with both sides dominating on defense.  Army held the ball for a long possession in the fourth but turned it over with maybe ninety seconds left, giving the Irish their best shot to walk away with a win.  But the Army defense held, and suddenly we were headed to overtime, tied with nine apiece.

The rest is history.
The overtime face-off was an amazing piece of clutch play.  Grabher came out on top but couldn't secure the ball, and we saw a few moments of unmitigated violence before Army got possession, cleared, and put David Symmes in position to make that amazing final play.

Army headed into this game with a good record but mediocre strength of schedule.  They lost to Rutgers, beat powerhouse Syracuse, went on a nine or ten game winning streak, but then dropped the Navy game and their Patriot League finale against a very good team from Loyola.  They then Boston University to make it to the Patriot League finals but again lost to Loyala before beating previously #4 Notre Dame yesterday.  Loyola therefore has the Patriot League's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, but Army has a good argument to get in with an at-large bid, though this is by no means a certainty.  From what I've seen, Loyola has a decent shot at winning it all.

Regardless, the selection committee will announce their tournament selections tonight at nine.  We should know by tomorrow whether Army will continue, or whether the Class of 2017 seniors will have to go out with yesterday's triumph.  Either way, it's been a Hell of an exciting season.

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