May 19, 2010

Nuts and Boltus: Why Army Can Win it All

by Brian Delaney | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

The first rule of Project Mayhem: don't ask questions.

* MD1 Tournament Central
* WD1 Tournament Central

Back in the preseason, Joe Alberici told Jeremy Boltus his junior season would not be judged by offensive statistics.

“His job was how the attack unit performed,” said Alberici, now in his fifth season as head coach of the Army men’s lacrosse program.

That line of thinking stemmed from the graduation of linemates Jason Peyer and Brooks Korvin, who combined for 58 goals and 21 assists in 2009. Boltus would have two new, inexperienced teammates to play with in the offensive third, and opposing defenses were going to focus in on the 6-foot-1, 190-pound playmaker out of Baldwinsville, near Syracuse.

Boltus had 26 goals and 25 assists as a sophomore, and Alberici didn’t want the junior thinking less production numerically would translate into a diminished impact.

Well, the numerical production hasn’t diminished. Neither has the impact.

“That unit has been tremendously successful this year,” Alberici said.

It was Boltus, of course, whose athletic ability was on full display when Army beat Syracuse goalie John Galloway for the ninth and final time of Sunday night’s stunning 9-8 NCAA tournament first-round upset of the two-time defending champions at the Carrier Dome.

Moving swiftly off-ball, Boltus took a little flip pass from Rob McCallion down the left alley. His speed forced Syracuse to slide, which left sophomore Devin Lynch wide open — for a split second — on the crease. Boltus’ pass was pure, as was Lynch’s finish, as the Black Knights picked up their first NCAA tournament victory since 1993.

“Coach has a great sense of all the players of our team, and what our roles are,” Boltus said Wednesday. “I kind of took it as my role ... to [lead] the whole attack unit.”

Jeremy Boltus' athleticism on attack helped Army push the rock against Syracuse and pull off one of the most stunning upsets in NCAA tournament history.

That attack unit includes 6-foot-4 freshman Garret Thul, a 40-goal scorer, and senior first-year starter Tyler Seymour (22g, 8a). In a 12-11 overtime loss to Cornell on March 6, the trio combined for seven goals and five assists.

If they can match that type of offensive production in Sunday’s noon quarterfinal against the Big Red at Stony Brook, the Black Knights may be headed to their first final four since 1984’s team did so under Hall of Fame coach Jack Emmer.

Until Sunday, the players will just enjoy the few small perks allowed them with classes finished.

“I actually got to sleep in until 8:30 this morning,” goalie Tom Palesky said Wednesday. “That’s sleeping in for us.

“After Sunday night, I think my phone was going to explode,” he added.

Upstate New York sports fans know the Boltus name well, but moreso for Jason Boltus’ terrific career as quarterback of the football team at Division III Hartwick College in Oneonta. A 2008 graduate, Boltus was named the 2007 Melberger Award winner as Division III’s top football player. The 6-foot-5 strong-armed righty now plays for Hamilton of the Canadian Football League.

Jeremy Boltus, a three-sport athlete in high school, said he initially hoped to play basketball in college. But his quarterback and point guard background have helped him develop into a terrific feeder and one of Division I’s most overlooked attackmen.

“I started lacrosse at a younger age and really liked that better,” he said. “I was improving year by year, playing with older guys and I just pursued it.”

Heading into the Cornell game, he’s totaled 66 points on 28 goals and 38 assists.

“From the beginning, he’s produced,” Alberici said. “He had a great freshman year, did it again as a sophomore and has continued to improve as a junior.”

Army’s roster is littered with players from hometowns near Syracuse. Lynch’s mom works at the university and the defensive brother tandem of Bill and Tim Henderson hail from nearby Tully.

Now, with Boltus at the offense’s head, they’re hoping to make a Syracuse-like run to the final four.

One Upstate New York team down; one to go. Both Syracuse and Cornell are, and have been, the highlights of the Black Knights' regular season nonconference schedule in recent years. Cornell will have its hands full dealing with the proverbial program that has gotten hot at the right time.

Army has won eight straight games since a 17-2 loss to Hofstra on March 30.

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