No. 10 Rutgers embraces fresh start, new season with Big Ten play starting up
When the then-No. 1 Rutgers men's lacrosse team lost to unranked Delaware, a feeling of disappointment would be expected.
For the now-No. 10 Scarlet Knights (8-1), there is only the feeling of more more motivation and anticipation for conference play.
When people think of lacrosse blue bloods, the names Hopkins, Maryland, Duke and Syracuse come to mind. Rutgers is not an athletic department familiar with success and certainly not to the extent of being the No. 1 team in the country.
While dropping nine spots in the national poll is not ideal, it puts the Knights in a position they have owned and embraced over the years: hunters.
With a matchup at Johns Hopkins on Friday — a team Rutgers upset twice last season — the Knights will have an opportunity to take down a traditional power in a huge conference game.
Rutgers is not supposed to beat Johns Hopkins in lacrosse, but the Knights have before, and with the Delaware loss behind them, that is where all of their focus is now. Senior defender Chris Groel said that team is more hungry now than they've been with more on the line.
"The next game is the most important for us. We always live for the next game," he said. "Obviously now that it's Big Ten play and it reflects on playoffs, we're gonna be definitely more hungry."
Senior midfielder Jeff George echoed that sentiment, saying that the team is excited for a clean slate and starting on the same foot as the rest of the conference.
With wins over No. 17 Princeton and No. 7 Army already, Rutgers is no stranger to tough competition. But with all six members ranked, led by Penn State at No. 2, the Big Ten has made its case for being the toughest conference in the nation and the Knights will have to battle through five conference games, three of which are on the road, just to get a spot in the Big Ten Tournament, let alone the NCAA.
"Brand new season, man. 0-0 right now, everyone is. It's a whole new season. We're very excited," he said. "Big Ten's tough this year."
With a 3-1 record on the road, Rutgers has not been terrible, but a lackluster win over NJIT — a team in just its third season of Division I lacrosse and one total win in its history — and a loss at Delaware have shown that they are vulnerable away from High Point Solution Stadium, a place they have been unbeatable at the past two years.
Head coach Brian Brecht does not believe they are a different team and said that he hoped the Delaware loss was simply an aberration.
"I don't know if we're a different team (on the road)," he said. "We were a different team this week."
With the added motivation, the Knights will hopefully put in more work by themselves in preparation for Friday night's game at Hopkins.
Brecht has singled out true freshman Kieran Mullins — the team's leading scorer — and members of the rope unit as players who set an example by the extra work they put in by themselves. Mullins, for example, stepped onto campus with no low-to-high shot in his arsenal. He has made that one of his most dangerous moves and is heating up at the right time, with a running streak of five straight hat tricks.
"Hopefully we'll have a burning hunger in our belly to get out there outside of practice and continue to get better," said Brecht.
With a "new season" and the most crucial five games on the regular season schedule yet to be played, George said that feeling of disappointment after a loss is something that will be key to them.
Brecht has built his program with a blue collar, "chip on your shoulder" mentality and his players will be as motivated as ever and know what it takes to make history at a school that is starving for some.
"We don't want to have this feeling ever again," George said. "We're gonna come to play, don't worry about that."