Knights hope experience can conquer top-10 foe
Off to its best start under third-year head coach Brian Brecht, the Rutgers men’s lacrosse team will need to carry over every bit of momentum gained from its first two games when they travel to Charlottesville, Va., tomorrow.
The Scarlet Knights (2-0) will face No. 7 Virginia for the first time since 2000, where the Cavaliers (3-0) controlled the Knights in Piscataway for a 17-8 victory.
Since that matchup, Rutgers has made just two NCAA tournament appearances with the last one coming in 2004. Virginia, meanwhile, has won three national championships.
But despite the Cavaliers well-known lacrosse background, the Knights are 4-4 all time against Virginia with a notable triumph coming in 1990, when they defeated the Cavaliers 7-6 in the NCAAs for their most recent tournament victory.
“They are a great name and great history at UVA, but the thing is they’re college kids just like us,” senior attacker Scott Klimchak said. “We play with those kids in the summer. We know a couple of their kids on the team. … So we’re looking at it just like every game on the schedule that we can win.”
The Cavaliers enter the matchup having won their previous three games all by one-goal margins, so the game could end with one play making the difference.
The Knights were 0-5 last season in games decided by one goal, including two heartbreaking defeats to then-No.1 Notre Dame and national runner-up Syracuse.
With a large percentage of players returning, Brecht believes this game is an opportunity to see how much his team has grown from last season’s anguish.
“I think like anything else, we’re going to have to be good and we’re going to have play our best lacrosse to have success … and have them maybe not be as excited to play us as we are going to be jumping out of our shorts to play them,” Brecht said. “When you’re the underdog, that’s the things you have to prepare and hope for, and I do believe you make and you prepare for your own luck on game day.”
Rutgers will face its first true test against a Virginia side that is well known for its strong defense.
But the Knights do have one clear-cut statistical advantage — face-offs.
Behind the play of junior faceoff specialist Joe Nardella, the Knights have won 80 percent of their face-offs compared to the Cavaliers winning just 43 percent of theirs.
Given how good Rutgers has been in its transition offense this season, if Nardella can continue to dominate and collect loose balls, the Knights attack could give Virginia a lot of problems.
“They’re a very well-rounded team, so we’ll put in some new things, keep using what we’ve been using and just try to play our game and worry about ourselves, and I think it will all come together,” Klimchak said.
Defensively, the Knights have put together back-to-back impressive performances in their opening two games.
Neither Manhattan nor Wagner could find a way to consistently break down the Knights’ lockdown defense, which held both teams to five goals each. But the Cavaliers are a much different challenge.
Led by Preseason Second Team All-America attacker Mark Cockerton, Virginia’s attack enters the matchup scoring more than 12 goals a game.
While the Knights know they will be tested, senior defender Nicholas Contino remains confident that they can handle the moment.
“We believe we can win every game on our schedule, and if you want to be the best you have to play the best and beat them, too,” Contino said. “All our games, we’re excited to get out there and play, it doesn’t matter who it is, what rank, we get out there and do what we need to do to give ourselves the best chance to win.”
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