Army women’s lacrosse has always suffered at the hands at its much older sister, Navy, in its annual match-up.
This year, the Black Knights may be old enough to fight back.
Though the Midshipmen carry a 3-0 mark on dominant, often double-digit victories against their rivals since the Army’s inaugural Division I season in 2016, there has never been an West Point squad with the kind of experience it has now.
“We have some veterans out there,” said Army head coach Kristen Skiera, “who have not only played in this game and understand the emotions involved in it, as well as the execution necessary to beat a Top 20 program like Navy.”
Those wiser players will clash with the No. 14 Mids (10-3, 4-1 Patriot League) on Saturday afternoon as the first half of the Army-Navy Star Series doubleheader at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. First draw is slated for 1 p.m.
“I don't think our players feel pressure,” Navy head coach Cindy Timchal said of the rivalry. “When I say it's a big game, every game is a big game. There's not one game that's not big.”
While the odds are certainly in Navy’s favor after drubbing Army 20-7 last spring, the Black Knights (10-3, 3-2 PL) have a streak of their own to maintain.
They haven’t lost since being edged by American 12-10 four games ago. The only conference team with a longer winning streak is Loyola (6), which hasn’t ever lost a Patriot League game.
Leading the effort from the midfield is senior Manuela Cortes, who recorded her seventh hat trick of the season in a high-scoring victory over Lafayette on Saturday. Another stalwart scorer is junior Samantha Stewart, who earned her second-straight Patriot League Midfielder of the Week laurels on Monday.
Just before then, Army posted its first-ever victory over Lehigh, powered by sophomore attack Jackie Brattan’s five goals — her eighth hat trick heading into Saturday.
With 41 goals, Brattan is Army’s all-time single-season scoring leader. The sophomore is a large reason why the Black Knights reached double-digit wins for a second year running — she has two games to date with 10 or more draw controls.
“Navy's best defense is their offense. To be honest, their draw controls,” Skiera said. “For us, historically, we just haven't had enough possessions against them to generate enough shots and therefore generate enough goals. Big key for us heading into this game is to generate possessions. Controlling the draw, being able to win more than 50 percent of the draws against them is going to be huge.”
The two sides rank fairly evenly when it comes to offense — Navy boasts 34 shots per game and 191 goals heading into Saturday while Army averages 32.8 shots per game and brings 184 goals to Annapolis.
Timchal will look to Kelly Larkin to continue to provide the edge on the offensive front. She upped her season points to 81 with four goals and six assists against Georgetown on Wednesday, becoming the fourth player in Navy women’s lacrosse history to reach 300 or more points (306).
“Kelly will look to perform collectively with the team,” Timchal said. “If there's heavy defensive pressure on her, she'll look to set up her teammates. If she has an opening, she's going to take it.”
Sophomore Nicole Victory is again expected to bolster Larkin on the offensive end after posting a career-best five goals and an assist against Georgetown. Junior midfielder Annalise Heyward has 35 points to date while junior midfielder Kayla Harris (Broadneck) has 33.
Defensively, Army currently leads Navy in terms of goaltending. The Black Knights carry 26 more saves into Saturday, thanks primarily to junior Maddie Burns (76 saves).
In the field, though, Navy possesses a slightly higher caused turnover total, 118-91.
“We could face different defenses, so we have to be prepared on that side,” Timchal said. “They could try to face-guard someone or shut off someone, they could play man, they could play zone. The key, on the offensive end, is being consistent and looking for the right opportunities.”
Army, too, places a heavy emphasis on stemming Navy’s top offensive threats.
“As much as I look at it and say 'Hey, we've got to match up well 1-v-1 versus Larkin and Andie O'Sullivan and Kayla Harris' ... what it's going to come down to is how we play together,” Skiera said. “A defensive unit, in order to keep Navy off the boards, we have to play together. Our gameplan has to be very cohesive.
“At the end of the day, it's going to be how our seven defenders and our goalie play together to be able to mute Navy's offense.”