Depth gives Rutgers chance at ranking
Winners of four straight games, the Rutgers men’s lacrosse team entered last Saturday’s road contest against now-No. 5 Denver in unchartered territory.
Sitting just outside the top 20 according to NCAA.com, a victory would have vaulted the Scarlet Knights to their first top-20 ranking under third-year head coach Brian Brecht.
While the Knights (6-3, 1-1) fell to the Pioneers (7-2, 1-0), 17-11, Rutgers still find itself on the brink of a national ranking.
With back-to-back home matchups against Big East opponents Marquette and St. John’s looming at High Point Solutions Stadium, the stage is set for the Knights to break into the national poll.
Despite the recognition a national ranking would give to a program that suffered 12 straight defeats a season ago, Brecht insists being ranked is far from his team’s conscience.
“We don’t talk about it. I don’t hear that from the guys,” Brecht said. “I have other things to worry about as far as getting them ready to play, and … we just have to take care of ourselves and we say that a lot.”
The fact that Rutgers is in the conversation of being nationally ranked may be surprising to some, and rightfully so.
The Knights had an abysmal 2013 season, finishing 2-13 and ending winless in conference play.
But a deeper analysis would suggest their success has been a long time coming.
Out of Rutgers’ 13 losses last year, eight of them came by two goals or less.
Two of those defeats were one-goal losses against Syracuse, the national championship runners-up and Notre Dame, which was No.1 in the country at the time.
Add in the return of 97 percent of their offensive production from last year and the Knights’ strong start to the season was almost expected.
“It’s definitely exciting that we’re having a turnaround season, but it comes with the body of work that we’re putting in,” said senior defender Nick Contino. “... I don’t want to say that we’re surprised [by the turnaround]. When we do the things the right way and we work hard off the field as well, good things happen.”
Returning leadership and experience has been important to Rutgers’ success, but the contributions from freshmen, especially in the attack, have played a crucial role.
Freshman attacker Connor Murphy stole the limelight several times this season for his impressive performance, but another freshman attacker Christian Trasolini has emerged as one of the Knights’ most consistent scoring threats.
Trasolini scored a team- and career-high four goals against the Pioneers, earning him a spot on this week’s Big East Weekly Honor Roll.
The New Hyde Park, N.Y., native has scored 17 goals this season — second on the team in both goals and total points.
Although Trasolini has made an instant impact offensively, his large role on the team has been surprising even to him.
“I didn’t really come in thinking that I was going to be this guy who was going to be the second-leading scorer,” Trasolini said. “I just came in and tried working my butt off as best as I could.”
With the contributions from Murphy, Trasolini and freshman defender Chris Groel, along with the high number of returning players from last season, the Knights have the depth to be a top-20 program.
Now it is about staying consistent, something Rutgers has struggled to do against the two top programs it has faced in No. 8 Virginia and Denver.
“We shoot ourselves in the foot sometimes, hurting ourselves,” Contino said. “But we feel we can play with anybody when we play our game … and we’re a dangerous team.”
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