Rutgers aims to sustain momentum as Big Ten foes loom
After getting off to its best start to a season in over 10 years, the Rutgers men's lacrosse team put together two consecutive losing performances, in which it didn't resemble the same team that had raced out to a 5-0 start.
First, in the Scarlet Knights' away game against then-No. 18 Stony Brook March 11, they took a lead of 3-1 after the first quarter before being outscored by the Seawolves 14-3 the rest of the way in a 15-6 defeat.
The Knights first loss in 2016 marked a season lows in goals scored — previous low was 12— and a season high in goals against — previous high was 11. It was also the first time they lost the ground ball battle in a game.
Following a two-day break, Rutgers had another tough test in its hands in the form of a matchup with in-state rival Princeton.
The Knights' defense got back on the track, allowing only 10 goals. They outshout the Tigers and won the ground ball game, but only managed to put up 7 goals as they dropped their second straight.
On its first losing streak of the season, Rutgers needed to get back on track and its scheduled awarded them the opportunity to do just that.
Returning home on the heels of a local four-game road swing, the Knights were able to piece together a complete game on both sides of the field in a 16-3 win over winless NJIT, which eclipsed their win total of five from last season.
After being held to just 4 goals combined during the two-game losing skid, the top attacking line of senior Scott Bieda, redshirt freshman Adam Charalambides and sophomore Jules Heningburg found the back of the net a total of eight times.
On the defensive end, the Knights only allowed 12 shots on goal, with senior Kris Alleyne making nine saves.
“We definitely needed that one," Alleyne said of the dominating win over NJIT. "Obviously, our tempo the last couple games hasn’t been where we like it to be. So just moving forward, we just gotta continue to prepare for every game no matter who the opponent is on the other side.”
Back in the win column, Rutgers (6-2) will return to the friendly confines of High Point Solutions Stadium — where it has 3-0 record and a plus-25 goal differential — on Saturday night for the second game of its four-game home stand to host Delaware.
The Blue Hens (3-6) come to Piscataway with an attack and defense that don't even land in the top-50 in the country as the Knights counter with the No. 13 offense and No. 18 defense.
Last year, Delaware played Rutgers tight in the first half, entering the locker room with a 2-goal deficit. But the Knights used a 5-goal third quarter to escape Newark, Delaware, with the 17-12 win.
Scott Bieda led the way for Rutgers with 5 goals and junior attacker Christian Trasolini finished right behind him with 4.
In net, Kris Alleyne stopped 10 of the Blue Hens 22 shots on goal.
The two Delaware attackers that did the most damage in that game, Brian Kormondy and Tom Holland, have since graduated, but two Blue Hens have stepped up to carry the attack.
Andrew Romagnoli and Paul Major each have 10-plus goals and 20 points this season.
"I think the Big Ten is the toughest conference in lacrosse and the ACC has a lot of history, (but) the CAA top to bottom is very competitive lacrosse wise," said head coach Brian Brecht. "It’s certainly going to be exciting for our guys and a great opportunity ... to be able to have a big game like that heading into Big Ten play. We’re just focused on Delaware right now and mainly ourselves.”
On paper, it's a game Rutgers should be able to cruise through, but it has to be careful in not looking ahead to the sleeping giant that is coming to town next weekend.
The Knights' game with Delaware will close out the second third of the season and thus commence their second season of Big Ten play, starting with a home game against No. 7 Johns Hopkins April 2.
In their inaugural season in the conference, they finished just 1-4, but three of their losses came by 2 goals or less.
One of those close losses game on the road against then-No. 19 Johns Hopkins.
Rutgers has done a solid job of taking care of business against inferior opponents this season and it will need to continue to do that on Saturday night as it builds momentum going into conference play.
“We try to take it one game at a time and all of our focus right now is win Delaware and then we’ll focus on the conference after that," Charalambides said. "But a big one is necessary this week so we can get the momentum we want.”