Rutgers faces strenuous slate of games in newly formed Big Ten
A team is often measured by how it fares in the face of adversity.
Bolstered by a preseason All-American and Major League Lacrosse draftee in senior quad-captain Joseph Nardella, the Rutgers men’s lacrosse team will face a daunting task in 2015, as it enters the inaugural season of Big Ten lacrosse — getting out alive.
The Scarlet Knights will have to negotiate a veritable gauntlet of top-tier teams in order to make a return trip to the postseason.
Head coach Brian Brecht did not sugarcoat the path ahead for his fourth season at the helm in Piscataway.
“It’s an aggressive, competitive schedule,” Brecht said. “It’s what, as coaches, we want to test ourselves against. It’s what the student-athletes came here for. It’s why the alumni are excited to come back and watch games here at High Point Solutions Stadium.”
Of the 15 games on the Knights’ schedule this season, five of the opponents are ranked in the preseason polls, with three of the five as members of the newly formed lacrosse conference. Rutgers is projected to finish fifth out of the six-team Big Ten, according to ncaa.org.
The Knights will be forced to lean on their veterans if they want to emulate last year's success.
Named a 2015 Preseason All-American by Inside Lacrosse Face-Off Yearbook, Nardella was the fifth Rutgers’ alum to be selected in the MLL draft and the first since 2010.
Selected 36th overall in January by the Boston Cannons, the face-off specialist ranked fifth in the nation and second in the Big East behind Tyler Knarr of Georgetown in face-off percentage in 2014, winning .632 (206-of-326) of his draws.
“It’s a great feeling [to be drafted] and I feel it’s a testament to all the hard work over the years and all my family put into my success,” Nardella said.
The future pro also touched on the experience he hopes to share with the younger players on the team.
“It sounds dumb, but I really just told them that they have to take advantage of every opportunity,” he said. “You don’t want to look back and have any regrets.”
Nardella headlines a group of six returning starters who helped the Knights to an 8-8 2014 campaign, the best record in 10 years for the program. Rutgers’ offense from a season ago averaged 12.13 goals per game, which ranked 10th in the nation.
Junior attacker and quad-captain Scott Bieda hopes to follow up on an impressive sophomore season, where he led the Knights with 24 assists and finished the year second on the team with 42 points overall.
A constant for Rutgers over the past three seasons has been senior midfielder and quad-captain, Brian Goss. Goss will play his fourth season for the Knights, offering rock-solid dependability, starting 43 of the 45 games played since arriving on the banks.
The Arlington Heights, Illinois, native scored 16 goals last season, including a pair in the Big East semifinal loss to 2015 consensus No. 1 Denver.
“I just want to do whatever it takes for myself and this team to get wins,” Goss said. “If that means I have to be the big goal-scorer [of] the day or just picking up ground balls and playing defense, I just want to do whatever this team needs to get wins.”
Rounding out the captains is Nick Capparelli, who earned seven starts in the 16 games he played for the Knights.
The target for all Big Ten squads will be Johns Hopkins, which sits atop a conference in its infancy.
The Blue Jays, whom Rutgers will pay a visit in Baltimore on March 28, are No. 5/6 in the USILA Coaches’ and Inside Lacrosse polls respectively, having reached the NCAA Quarterfinals last year where they fell to eventual champion Duke, 19-11.
This year’s matchup, along with the home game against Ohio State will be nationally televised on ESPNU, with the possibility of two more games to be televised by the Big Ten Network.
Close behind Johns Hopkins is Maryland, ranked No. 8/10 in the preseason polls after finishing 13-3 in 2014 and reaching the national semifinal before dropping an 11-6 loss to Notre Dame. The Knights host the Terps on April 12 at High Point Solutions Stadium in Piscataway.
Throw in non-conference matchups with No. 2/4 Virginia and No. 20 Army at home, and it is clear another postseason run for Rutgers will be a challenge.
But Brecht welcomes that challenge, and has the utmost confidence in his team.
“As of July 1st, there’s no better conference to be in other than the Big Ten, athletically and academically,” he said. “We want to continue moving the needle and raising the bar. The expectations we have are to meet the aggressiveness of the schedule that we now will compete against in the Big Ten.”
For updates on the Rutgers men’s lacrosse team, follow @KevinPXavier and @TargumSports on Twitter.