Rutgers looks to stay undefeated on the road against Fairfield
The Rutgers men’s lacrosse team will look to continue its strong start to the season this Saturday with a road trip to take on Fairfield. The No. 15 Scarlet Knights (2-0) are coming off of an important home victory over a very good Army team. Meanwhile, the Stags (1-1) are coming off of their first win of the season, a 13-12 triumph over Bucknell. But just prior, they were dominated by No. 14 Richmond in the season opener, 15-3.
Yet despite that loss, Fairfield was ranked No. 20 by the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association (USILA) Coaches poll to start the season and are not to be taken lightly. The team boasts arguably the best player in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) in Colin Burke. The sophomore attacker was the CAA co-Player of the Year last season and the CAA Rookie of the Year. He led the conference with 46 goals and 63 points and through two games this season has more than twice the points of anyone else on the Stags with 7. He is also coming off a 6-point performance against Bucknell.
Rutgers will have to play to its strengths with depth all over the field, from a strong attack to a deep midfield, an experienced defense and a goalie who has been first-class this season. With many players from last year’s historic team not playing this year due to graduation or injury, head coach Brian Brecht has been working to fill in those spots and said that these early season games are so important because there is only so much you can simulate in practice.
“It’s early in the season with a lot of new guys playing different roles this year,” he said. “It’s still early as far as teaching. You don’t get opportunities to learn from game-like situations in practice.”
One of the Brecht's adjustments this year has been letting the midfielders push the tempo more. While he likes to rotate different midfield units, he has been letting groups play a little longer to help build chemistry
Junior attacker Jules Heningburg, who leads the team with 7 goals this season, said that these adjustments have made a clear defense and helped the attackers get better looks, but also help the midfielders themselves get scoring opportunities.
“They get stops and they come down on the offensive end,” he said. “Coach is letting them play a little more offense this year, trying to (keep them on the field) a little bit longer. And now they’re just getting their chances and converting them.”
Long-stick midfielders are helping to push the tempo and create more opportunities in transition, an area in which Rutgers excels.
Junior Christian Scarpello has stepped up as a leader in that midfield and had 2 goals in the Knights’ win over Army last Saturday.
“We love playing fast and getting out in transition, defense to offense,” he said.
Another adjustment made in their victory against Army was having sophomore long-stick midfielder Kyle Pless take faceoffs in the second half. He went 3-5, the best percentage of any Rutgers player.
The hope in putting a pole at the faceoff “X” is that they will be able to get the ball in transition quicker, which Pless did do. He also played a key role in one of the most important parts of the game. After a Kieran Mullins goal in the third quarter, sophomore midfielder Mark Christiano came out of the faceoff scramble and found Pless, who pushed the ball up the field, leading to another goal for Mullins, his second in 24 seconds.
But the hero of that game was junior goalie Max Edelmann, who had 15 saves, including a massive stop with 53 seconds to go that helped hold off a strong push by Army to tie up the game late.
Brecht has clear goals for Edelmann at each game, saying that he wants to see a 50 percent save percentage and double digit saves, feats that Edelmann has accomplished in both games this season, as he already has 25 saves and a 58.1 percent save percentage.
After starting the first three games in 2016 before getting injured — only to watch Kris Alleyne take over and make crucial saves in big games — the pressure is on for Edelmann to keep Rutgers in games this year. But if the first two games are any indication, there is no one better for the job.
“When you have a goalie getting 15 saves and you’re getting double digits in goals and you’re winning possessions at the faceoff, that’s a good recipe for success,” Brecht said.