Rutgers flies past Wagner to remain undefeated
The day before the Rutgers men’s lacrosse team faced off against Wagner in a matinee matchup on the road, it was awarded with something it hadn’t yet received during head coach Brian Brecht’s five-year tenure.
The undefeated Scarlet Knights were voted among the top-20 teams in the USILA Coaches Poll for the first time since 2011, landing at No. 16.
When the Knights finally took the field in Staten Island on Tuesday afternoon, they looked every bit of a top-20 side against an inferior Seahawks team.
Rutgers’ perfect record was never at risk as its defense stymied the opposition and its starting attackers combined for nine goals in a 15-7 win over Wagner (1-3) to improve to 4-0 on the season.
“Our transition was great today,” Brecht said. “Give a lot of credit to that rope unit, that short-stick ‘D’ group with (Christian) Mazzone and (Christian) Scarpello and the long-stick middies with (Zack) Sikora and (Kyle) Pless … Those guys were great on defense. I thought they did a great job of locking down Wagner on the defensive end and getting the ball up and out real quick and pushing in transition down to our attack."
For the second consecutive game, the Knights’ defense was in lockdown mode.
After allowing Fairfield to get on the scoreboard just six times on Saturday, Rutgers allowed one goal in the first 33-plus minutes of action.
The Knights’ activity in their own defensive zone caused 13 of the Seahawks’ 18 total turnovers. Sophomore midfielder Christian Mazzone led the team with three caused turnovers, while also scooping four groundballs.
Mazzone earned Big Ten Defender of the Week honors Tuesday after a similar performance against Fairfield.
Although Wagner had the edge in shots and extra man opportunities, it wasn’t given a lot of great looks at the net, and when it did, Kris Alleyne was there to make the stop more times than not.
After filling in for injured sophomore goalie Max Edelmann and making three saves in the fourth quarter against Fairfield, the senior got the start in goal and made a total of 13 saves.
Rutgers swarming defense led to a number of its turnovers and groundballs, which opened up the transition game for the Knights with midfielders scooping loose balls and delivering it to the attack unit.
“We’ve been working hard in practice, working hard on our slides and recoveries,” Mazzone said on the Knights’ defensive success. “Really game planning well, knowing our opponent and just executing, working hard getting ground balls when we get turnovers.”
Following a low-scoring first quarter in which the Knights grabbed an early 2-1 lead, Rutgers’ offense exploded in the subsequent period, spurred yet again by its top line of attackers.
Sophomore Jules Heningburg, senior Scott Bieda and redshirt freshman Adam Charalambides each respectively scored a goal in the first five minutes of the second quarter to give Rutgers a 5-1 lead.
That unit wasn’t done yet either, as each member of the trio contributed to 3 of 4 goals Rutgers scored in the remainder of the quarter.
On the day, the Knights’ starting attack unit combined for nine goals and five assists, with Heningburg — who was named Big Ten Co-Offensive Player of the Week Tuesday — leading the way with five scores and Bieda behind him with three.
Wagner managed 10 shots in the second quarter, but couldn’t find the back of the net once as Rutgers took a 9-1 lead into the locker room.
The Seahawks would score 3 of the first 4 goals in the second half to cut the Knights’ lead to six with 23 total minutes of lacrosse still to play, but Rutgers wouldn’t allow them to get any closer than that for the rest of the afternoon.
In what has become a trend for the Knights in the early third of the season, they led for almost the entire game — the final 52 minutes and 48 seconds — and also maintained a lead of at least six for the final 35 minutes and 27 seconds.
With its convincing win over Wagner, Rutgers has now shown its ability to play with large leads and not allow the opposition back into the game in 3 of its 4 wins, an impressive feat for a team that has a number of young players playing significant roles.
“I think it’s really a contribute to our defense,” Bieda said on why the Knights have been stout in protection of big leads this season. “Kris Alleyne, with Max being hurt, coming in and making 13 saves, I couldn’t be prouder. We out-hustle teams, we out-groundballed, now, every team we’ve played. Maybe we haven’t even won as many faceoffs, but we’re still out-groundballing teams ... we got way more heart than teams.”