June 17, 2019 | 78° F

Knights await status on star midfielder’s head injury

Photo by Dennis Zuraw |

Junior faceoff specialist Joe Nardella suffered a head injury late into the first half against Virginia. Nardella has a 85.2 faceoff win percentage.

Following the Rutgers men’s lacrosse team’s 19-12 defeat Saturday to now-No. 5 Virginia, one thing was clear: the Scarlet Knights (2-1) are a different team without junior Preseason All-Big East faceoff specialist, Joe Nardella, on the field.

Nardella was 10-of-13 in face-offs in the first half and the Knights tied the Cavaliers with 17 ground balls.

The Knights also had 21 shots in the first half — compared to just 10 in the second — showing Rutgers missed the extra possessions Nardella offers for the team.

Without Nardella, the Knights were 6-of-20 in face-offs and finished with 29 ground balls to Virginia’s 44.

The game may have had a different outcome if Nardella was not sidelined with seconds remaining in the first half on what head coach Brian Brecht called a cheap shot.

“I was just trying to go out for [the ball] and throw it down quick to the attack and then get a quick shot,” Nardella said. “I came out the front … and was looking for the ball directly in front of me and then everything went black. The kid had a full run at me. I watched it on film, he just crushed me.”

The Knights have the whole week to prepare for their next game against Stony Brook this upcoming Saturday. Rutgers lost, 9-8, to the Seawolves following three overtime periods last year at the RU Turf Complex.

Nardella’s absence could see the Knights’ attack lose some of its ability to play quick in transition, along with fewer opportunities to score.  

Although Brecht is confident team doctors will clear Nardella to play sometime this week, he remains optimistic in Rutgers’ ability to cope without one of its top athletes.

“If for some reason he’s not [ready to play Saturday] then obviously we have plans for when he’s not facing off like we did in the second half of Virginia, and we’ll have plans and a game plan if we have to go with someone else facing off for Stony Brook,” Brecht said.  

Junior faceoff specialist Brian Lenskold is the favorite to take the center should Nardella not be able to play this weekend.

Lenskold was 6-of-16 in face-offs when he took over the responsibilities against Virginia.

While not nearly as dominant as Nardella, his teammates are positive he can get the job done.

“I think Lenny will do a great job,” Nardella said. “He went in against Virginia and did pretty well. So hopefully that game experience will carry over into the next game and we’ll be good to go.”

Lenskold made three appearances during his sophomore season, including action against defending national champions Duke.

But the Martinsville, N.J., native made his biggest impact playing as a freshman for Manhattan, where he achieved a 50.6-percent faceoff winning percentage, which was ranked 39th in the country.

A two-time Group IV State Champion with Bridgewater-Raritan high school, Lenskold says he’s preparing this week like he will be named the starter and is confident in his abilities to fill in during Nardella’s absence.

“I feel like I’m a solid faceoff guy who can possess the ball,” Lenskold said. “I’m not as great in the open field as Nardella, but I can definitely help out the team.”

For updates on the Rutgers men’s lacrosse team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

By Sean Stewart

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