No. 10 Rutgers to face No. 13 Johns Hopkins in Big Ten opener
Looking to rebound from its first loss of the season at the hands of Delaware, the Rutgers men’s lacrosse team will head to Baltimore for a Friday night contest against No. 13 Johns Hopkins (5-3) in what will be the Big Ten opener for both teams.
The No. 10 Scarlet Knights (8-1) will play three of their five conference games on the road and their game at Hopkins will set the tone for a crucial and difficult stretch in the season.
With all six Big Ten teams ranked — No. 2 Penn State leads the way — nothing will come easy for the team.
"The next game is the most important for us. We always live for the next game," senior defender Chris Groel said. "Obviously now that it's Big Ten play and it reflects on playoffs, we're gonna be definitely more hungry."
Groel leads the defense in ground balls and has been a key leader for one of the best defensive units in the country.
Another senior, midfielder Jeff George, has been a veteran among the midfielders and a very important goal scorer for a unit that is finding itself on the scoresheet much more than last season.
George spoke of the significance of a “new season” with conference play and how the Knights will embrace their difficult schedule.
"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."
While Rutgers currently ranks top-10 in both scoring offense and defense, it has been the defense holding it down with the offense struggling at times shooting the ball.
The Knights lead the conference in shots per game with nearly 43 attempts each contest. Despite this, they rank last in shot percentage, putting in just 29 percent of their attempts.
After the game against Delaware, head coach Brian Brecht was not pleased with the shooting effort and encouraged his players to put in extra work on their own time to improve.
"Hopefully we'll have a burning hunger in our belly to get out there outside of practice and continue to get better," he said.
Although the Jays have three losses, they have played a very tough schedule, with all three of those coming against current ranked teams in No. 17 Princeton, No. 15 Towson and an overtime loss to No. 4 Syracuse.
Johns Hopkins is led by junior attacker Shack Stanwick, who is averaging 3 points per game with 11 goals and 13 assists through eight games. Sophomore attacker Kyle Marr leads the team in goals with 14 on the season and junior midfielder Joel Tinney has made multiple highlight reel plays this season while also being one of the best all-around midfielders in the nation, shooting at a 40 percent clip and tying the team lead in ground balls with 20.
Hopkins has proved to be vulnerable at the faceoff "X," where the Jays are just 43 percent on the year. Rutgers is winning 54 percent of its faceoffs with junior Joe Francisco being the main man, as he has taken around 80 percent of the team’s faceoffs and is winning 57 percent of them.
Craig Madarasz has taken the majority of the faceoffs for Johns Hopkins, but is winning just under 40 percent of them and has seen Hunter Moreland and Matt Ledwin step in for brief stints and put up better numbers,
Brecht was not happy with the team’s effort at the “X” against the Blue Hens as Francisco, freshman Palmer Lloyd and sophomore Kyle Pless all took faceoffs and combined for a measly 11-26 mark.
“We didn’t face off well, our man up was atrocious,” he said. “You’re not gonna win road games (like that).”
While Johns Hopkins is a traditional power in Division I lacrosse, Rutgers had the Jays’ number last year, beating them twice, including on their home turf in the Big Ten Tournament.
The Knights have shown that despite being a program only recently on the rise, they can play with anyone. Brecht hopes that last Saturday’s game was simply an outlier from what he has seen this year and they can clean it up Friday night.
“(That) was hopefully an aberration of the team we have this year,” he said.