June 18, 2018 | ° F

Knights focus on defense against Wagner

Photo by Tianfang Yu |

Junior faceoff specialist Joe Nardella has contributed to the strong defensive play of the Knights, collecting 18-of-20 faceoffs in Rutgers’ season-opening game Feb. 8 against Manhattan. Nardella also gathered a career-high 17 ground balls against the Jaspers, besting his previous high of 14 set against St. John’s on March 16 last year.

With a matchup against No. 8 Virginia looming Saturday, the Rutgers men’s lacrosse team might be susceptible to overlooking Wagner today in Staten Island, N.Y.

The Scarlet Knights (1-0) are 5-0 all-time against the Seahawks (0-0), dominating Wagner last season, 20-10, at the RU Stadium Complex for one of their two wins last year.

But considering the Knights have one of the toughest schedules in men’s lacrosse this season, head coach Brian Brecht said the team takes no one for granted.

“As a coach, it’s always a concern [looking past weaker opposition],” Brecht said. “That’s why we focused in on just ourselves the last couple days …We didn’t have any road wins last year so I don’t care what color jersey it is. We need to focus on ourselves and get that first win under our belt.”

The Knights enter the matchup coming off a 13-5 home victory Feb. 8 against Manhattan.

Rutgers held the Jaspers (0-2) to five goals defensively, the fewest allowed since the Knights defeated Wagner, 9-5, in 2012.

Junior defender Nick Capparelli performed well in his first game as a Knight, slotting in seamlessly with senior defenders Nick Contino and Andrew Parrilla.

The Knights also have much more depth on defense thanks to the addition of freshman defender Chris Groel and sophomore midfielder Zack Sikora switching to long pole.

But despite the plethora of options Brecht has to choose from, communication in the back remains a work in progress.

“I think we have some guys who understand what’s going on and they know it in their head, but for whatever reason I don’t think we communicate,” Brecht said. “We’re great communicating in the locker room, in the showers, on the bus and going out to team meals. … But as far as vocally on the field, no, and it’s something we need to get a lot better at real fast.”

Part of the defense’s success against the Jaspers stemmed from the strong faceoff play from junior faceoff specialist Joe Nardella.

The 2014 Preseason All-Big East Team selection was vital to the Knights’ success, winning 18-of-20 face-offs in the game.

Nardella also collected a career-high 17 ground balls, surpassing his previous best of 14 set March 16 at St. John’s.

Although the Cazenovia, N.Y., native now has larger expectations to meet this year, Nardella welcomes the challenge.

“I think it motivates you more to perform well. Like the navy seals say, ‘if you’re not moving forward you’re going to get caught, so got to just keep progressing and keep working harder every day,’” Nardella said. “I have that target on my back. I’m not the unknown kid like I was last year so I have to prepare more.”

Senior attacker Scott Klimchak is another player looking to build on his strong performance against Manhattan.

The Clark, N.J., native tied his career-high with five goals versus the Jaspers and is looking to extend his scoring streak to 19 straight games.

Klimchak and senior midfielder Nick DePaolera scored four goals each the last time the Knights faced Wagner.

Klimchak, who led Rutgers with 32 goals last season, said his consistency comes from sticking to his strengths.

“I’m just playing the way I know how to play and we’re really meshing together real well this year, so I feel like if we can keep it going, we will be fine,” Klimchak said.

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

By Sean Stewart

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