No. 1 Rutgers uses extra rest to nail down preparations for Delaware
Saturday marks the first time in history the Rutgers men’s lacrosse team will take the field as the top-ranked team in the country. The No. 1 Scarlet Knights (8-0) will take a short trip south to play Delaware (6-3) on what looks to be a warm and sunny afternoon.
Coming off a 10-6 win over NJIT that was way too close for comfort — although it is worth noting they were playing on one day of rest after a battle against No. 13 Princeton — Rutgers will know to treat the Blue Hens like any of the many ranked teams it has faced this season.
“(We are) approaching each game like it’s a ranked team,” said head coach Brian Brecht. “Approaching each game with the attitude of being humbled as far as where we are but also respecting our opponent.”
With over a week of preparation for Delaware, the Knights will be well-rested and they will have had plenty of time to prepare and put themselves in the best position to win.
Rutgers has used tactical game-planning to help roll through a difficult non-conference schedule, featuring five teams that have been ranked at one point in the season as well as three straight ranked teams. But even when the opponent isn’t ranked, they will be treated as if they were.
“We pride ourselves in preparing and taking each team seriously,” said junior midfielder Christian Mazzone. “Doing extra film, extra work after really learning our opponent. It (starts) with Delaware and rolls into Big Ten play.”
And despite the new No. 1 ranking to their name, the Knights will continue to play out this season as motivated as ever.
Senior defender Chris Groel has not only seen his position group develop into one of the best in the country but has seen his team do the same. He has seen Rutgers go from a mediocre Big East team, to Big Ten bottom feeder, to the top team in the nation.
Knowing where this program was just a few years ago has helped Groel and the rest of the team remain humble and hungry.
“Our mentality is always having a chip on our shoulder,” he said. “We know how low (we’ve been), how dark times have been for us in the past that we always see the next game as a challenge.”
That mentality will help prepare for a Delaware team that already has six wins on the year and has shown that it can make some noise with a strong attacking unit.
The Blue Hens boast an attack that is led by three underclassmen who all attended high school in New Jersey. Freshman Charlie Kitchen and sophomores Andrew Romagnoli and Joe Eisele make up a unit that is scoring over 7 goals per game for a team averaging 12 per game.
Despite this, Brecht remains confident in his experienced group that knows what it takes to handle its business on the road,
“This is a mature group, this is an older group that’s had a lot of experiences on the road, at home, in postseason play,” he said. “They know what needs to be done. It’s a challenge now being the number one (team). So it’s just another task for us to be able to handle as we go about our business.”
With the top ranking in the country and six games left in the regular season, the Knights will need to be prepared to take the best shot each of their opponents has.
In seven weeks of rankings, only one team, Maryland, has kept the top spot for consecutive weeks. This speaks to quality of lacrosse all over the nation and there are no teams to be taken lightly. The last team to hold that spot, Denver, was recently blown out by No. 3 Ohio State, a team Rutgers will host in its season finale at home.
The Knights will not look past the Blue Hens this Saturday, as Delaware is all they have on their minds and is all they have been preparing for over the past week, as there is no doubt they will get the Blue Hen’s best effort.
“We know that we earned that and we want to keep that ranking,” Mazzone said. “We know people are gonna give us their best and we’re gonna be ready.”