Rutgers achieves top national ranking
Week in and week out, the Rutgers men's lacrosse team has proven that last year's historic season was no fluke.
In this week's Inside Lacrosse Media Poll, the Scarlet Knights (8-0) came in at the top spot, ahead of perennial power Notre Dame and fellow Big Ten teams Penn State and Ohio State.
The number one ranking is the first for any Rutgers team since the men's soccer team's preseason No. 1 ranking back in 1995. The ranking comes on the heels of a week that included a strong 16-11 ranked win over No. 13 Princeton and a close 10-6 win over bottom feeder NJIT, a game that was the Knights' third in seven days and second in just three.
While Penn State (11) and Notre Dame (10) both received more first place votes than Rutgers (7), the Knights still found themselves with the top ranking, mainly due to strong wins against No. 8 Army West Point and Princeton.
Rutgers is in the midst of a seven-day rest period before hitting the road for a contest at Delaware (6-3). That game will conclude the Knights' non-conference slate, and although there stands to be a great chance they finish 9-0, a brutal Big Ten schedule awaits them.
As it stands now, every team in the Big Ten is ranked, with Rutgers' schedule starting off with a road test at No. 17 Johns Hopkins on March 31.
"It's exciting, but it's also humbling at some times," head coach Brian Brecht said. "The work is not done and there's a lot of lacrosse left."
Not only is there a lot of lacrosse left, but there is a lot of tough lacrosse left, as once Big Ten play starts, it will be all ranked opponents, as all six members of the conference were ranked this week.
With the Knights, Penn State and Ohio State all in the top 5 — not your traditional lacrosse powers — and college lacrosse blue bloods Maryland and Johns Hopkins coming in at 10 and 17, respectively, the Big Ten seems to be a wide open race. And with just four teams making the conference tournament, there will be little to no room for error for this team.
But Brecht has prepared his team for moments like this. Despite being snubbed from the NCAA Tournament last year, Brecht prepared the players for the big stage. With some key players from the team gone, others from the group have had to alter their roles.
"We have a mature group that was a big part of the success last year," he said. "We ask them to change what can help us be successful and they've done it without batting an eyelash."
Combine that with a slew of young talent, and Rutgers is poised to make a run this year.
Sophomore long stick midfielders Kyle Pless and Garrett Michaeli have learned from last season and taken their games to the next level. As members of the rope unit, Pless and Michaeli work to move the ball from the defensive side of the field to the attacking unit. Their work is a big part of what the team calls "#RTempo," a fastbreak attack that has turned saves into goals almost too fast for the opposition to react.
"Kyle Pless had a lot of experience in last year's season with (then-senior) Zak Sikora," he said. "And (Garrett Michaeli) being a year better, not just a year older."
Over the last four games, three of which have been against ranked opponents, freshman attacker Kieran Mullins has scored 3.5 goals per contest and now holds the team lead in goals on the season with 19.
Brecht has complimented Mullins' work ethic, crediting his success to work he has put in on his own, adding more shots to his repertoire. With sophomore Adam Charalambides set to return next year from an injury, big things could be in store in the future for this group.
"They've done a great job," Brecht said of Pless, Michaeli and Mullins. "All of them were recruited to help us early in their careers."
With some young pieces and a mature defense anchoring the team, the Knights are poised to be more than just a one-and-done at the top spot.