Rutgers defense dominant in victory over Fairfleld
With two new starters this year, some offensive setbacks were expected for the Rutgers men’s lacrosse team this year. On Saturday against Fairfield, that was the case, but the defense stepped up huge, anchoring the Scarlet Knights (3-0) in an 8-3 victory over the Stags (1-2).
The Rutgers defense kept the game out of reach for nearly all 60 minutes, despite a 20-minute goal drought for the Knights, which included the entire third quarter. Rutgers was able to hold Fairfield scoreless for the first and fourth quarters, allowing them to get out to a quick lead and close out the game with ease.
The leader of that defensive unit was senior Chris Groel, who collected seven ground balls and was all over the field for the Knights.
“(Holding Fairfield to) just one goal in the first half, that’s really big for us, especially as a defense,” he said. “We try to keep our average under 10 goals, but I think starting the first half off with just 1 goal not only helps the defense’s confidence but also the offense’s confidence.”
The defensive effort may not have led to the offense upping its production, but it kept nerves down, as despite only scoring 1 goal in the second half, the game never really seemed close.
Nearly all of the production on the attack unit came from senior attacker Connor Murphy, who scored 3 goals for his fourth career hat trick and first of the season. Junior Jules Heningburg had just 1 goal and freshman Kieran Mullins was held pointless.
“Personally, I don’t think we did a good job shooting and finishing today, across the board,” he said.
Instead, head coach Brian Brecht could not have enough good things to say about the defensive effort from Rutgers.
Junior goalie Max Edelmann had nine saves while only allowing 3 goals, good for a season-high 75 percent save percentage. As a team, they were 96 percent clearing the ball, which helped lead to 41 shots, 16 more than their opponents.
“I thought our defense did a great job. Our rope unit was outstanding, pushing the tempo and creating. We had 24 out of 25 clears,” Brecht said. “We were getting the ball off the ground, Max was making saves and we were flying up the field.”
Brecht also complemented other areas of the team, saying that they did an excellent job of creating turnovers and pushing the ball up the field for offensive opportunities.
It seemed as if just about every player that stepped on the field for the Knights was swarming to the ball and causing turnovers. Sophomore long stick midfielder Kyle Pless was second on the team with three ground balls while junior defender Garrett Michaeli led the team in causing three turnovers. Brecht had special praise for both Utah natives after the game.
“The defense, the short stick (defensive midfielders), our (long stick midfielders) — Kyle Pless and Garrett Michaeli — were outstanding,” he said.
Last week against Army, Rutgers was dominant throughout the first three quarters, despite letting Army back into the game by way of a 4-0 run. If not for a huge save by Edelmann, that might not be a win on the score sheet.
Defender Alex Bronzo said that the team lacked awareness last week and wasn’t prepared for a strong effort in the fourth quarter from the Black Knights. But that led to a new focus in practice of being more aware on the defensive end and playing all 60 minutes.
“It was a big emphasis this week of being more aware and playing all the way through to the end and not let anything up,” Bronzo said.
The junior scooped up three ground balls in Saturday’s win and has been a starter on a defensive unit that has been getting better every game.
The unit’s best game of the season could not have come at a better time, but especially because of the game played by Fairfield goalie Tyler Behring, who saved 16 shots and was the main reason why the Knights scored 6 goals fewer that its average output going into the game.
“It was incredibly important. Our offense had tons of opportunities. We believe it's gonna start with us, our defense in transition,” Bronzo said. “(Our offense is) gonna keep shooting, their goalie’s gonna make saves and we’re gonna play harder on defense.”
This victory puts the Rutgers at 3-0 on the season, but also marked a historic day for Brecht, as he earned his 100th career victory.
Brecht, who is in his sixth year on the Banks, previously spent seven years as the head coach at Siena and now holds a career head coaching record of 100-92.
“I guess it means I’ve had a lot of opportunities over the past 13 years,” he said of his new milestone. “I’ve got some talented players that play hard and understand the game plan and compete for 60 minutes and I’m certainly proud of that.”