No. 14 Rutgers aware of challenge Wagner poses in midweek matchup
Following a strong, defensive-centered victory over Fairfield just three days ago, the Rutgers men's lacrosse team returns home to Piscataway to take on Wagner at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, back inside the friendly confines of High Point Solutions Stadium.
The No. 14 Scarlet Knights (3-0) have won nine straight games at home, spanning all the way back to an upset victory over Ohio State to close out the 2015 season.
"We're looking forward to it. It's another opportunity to get out there and play, especially at home," said junior defender Alex Bronzo.
The Seahawks (1-2) have been playing Rutgers every season since 2009, with the Knights winning all eight contests with comfortable margins. While Wagner has been a program that is steadily improving, Rutgers will still be heavily favored.
The Knights have shown their potential through just three games this season, showcasing a potent offense against St. John's, beating a ranked team in No. 16 Army and riding a dominant defense against Fairfield.
Rutgers will need to put all of these things together and they will try to do just that against the Seahawks in a game that senior defender Chris Groel said is a great opportunity for the team to fix the little things.
"We're really looking to tighten everything up a little more. Just another day to get out there go against another jersey, just get better, honestly," he said.
Groel had his best game of the early season against Fairfield, as he scooped up seven ground balls in a collective defensive effort that held the Stags scoreless in both the first and fourth quarters.
In that same game, head coach Brian Brecht could not say enough good things about the defense, but was critical of his attackers ability to put the ball in the net. Star junior Jules Heningburg had just one goal while senior Connor Murphy had a hat trick and freshman Kieran Mullins did not score or have an assist.
And not to take anything away from Fairfield goalie Tyler Behring who had a career game in net, but the Knights did miss multiple open nets and could not put away close range shots.
These opportunities were set up by the midfield, a unit that Brecht has been raving about this season.
“The defense, the short stick (defensive midfielders), our (long stick midfielders) — (sophomores) Kyle Pless and Garrett Michaeli — were outstanding,” he said.
Pless is part of the rope unit, a group that acts as a liaison between the defense and attackers, with Michaeli is a defender and helps to get the ball to players like Pless to help them push the ball up the field.
The main man behind the defensive stops has been junior goalkeeper Max Edelmann, who has been a brick wall in between the pipes so far this year, averaging over 11 saves per game while letting in just 7 goals per game, saving 62 percent of shots that have come his way.
He has been a model of consistency for this team and will look to keep it up against the Seahawks, in a game that will have allowed Rutgers just 2 days of rest following the Fairfield contest. Brecht says this will test his team's maturity as the Knights have had a full week between each of their first three games.
"I'm looking for maturity this weekend and understanding how important it is for us to recover the right way and prepare with the same effort and energy they do day in and day out for a quick turnaround," he said.
With ranked home matchups against No. 19 Brown and No. 18 Stony Brook looming after, Rutgers is doing its best to not overlook Wagner and get caught in a trap game.
Groel said that the team is aware of the upcoming ranked opponents but insists that the Knights are focused on Wagner and will use the game to sharpen their overall game and improve, while not sacrificing an opportunity for a win.
"We definitely have an edge on Wagner moving forward but we're not gonna take them lightly," Groel said. "We're gonna treat them as big a game as it is and just get better from it."