No. 8 Rutgers faces another challenge in No. 14 Stony Brook
For the second consecutive game, the nationally ranked team will step into High Point Solutions Stadium and for the second consecutive game, the Rutgers men’s lacrosse team will look to send the visitors home with a loss.
The No. 8 Scarlet Knights (5-0) welcome No. 14 Stony Brook (5-0) to Piscataway on Friday night in what was once supposed to be a rivalry game turned into a Seawolf-dominated series, with Stony Brook having beaten Rutgers every year since the 2013 season, the year the two teams began scheduling each other for annual contests.
This year is different, though, as the Knights are at their highest ranking since 2004 and are playing at home, a place they haven’t lost since 2015, winning 11 straight.
“I don’t know if it’s so much this place as it is how much pride they have in putting on these white jerseys,” said head coach Brian Brecht. “They prepare well, they execute on game days and they love putting on those white jerseys.”
Rutgers will be anchored by a defense that leads the Big Ten in caused turnovers with 10.8 per game, more than 3 better than second-place Maryland (7.6). The Knights defense also has the best scoring defense in the conference, allowing just 7.4 goals per game, with the unit’s most recent performance holding Brown — a team that averaged 21 goals per game — to just 11.
Junior defender Michael Rexrode was also recently name Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week. That is the second time he has been awarded that accolade in the young season and in the four weeks it has been awarded — a Rutgers player has won three of those times, with the other being senior Chris Groel for Week 1.
“We got a very mature defense,” said Brecht. “They prepare extremely well. They (understand) who they (are) playing. They understood playing to their strengths.”
The defense and junior goalie Max Edelmann can only do so much and the midfield has proven to be a unit worthy of recognition for the way it picks up the slack when the offense is having an off day.
Senior Jeff George leads all midfielders in both goals and assists and is the highest-scoring non-attacker on the team. In the team’s win over then-No. 19 Brown, George had 2 goals and 2 assists and helped the Knights get back into the game after an early effort.
The midfield, rope unit included, has been a much more prominent part of the offence this year and George credits preparation and offensive coordinator Jim Mitchell for the unit’s success.
“Practice man, practice every day. Coach Mitchell does a great job with our offense, adding new twitches for every team,” said George.
With the graduation of Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Scott Bieda and the season-ending injury to sophomore Adam Charalambides, junior attacker Jules Heningburg has been alone as the only consistent scoring threat for Rutgers. Teams were able to gameplan for him and shut him down, with Heningburg getting no help from his other attackers.
That changed on Saturday, as true freshman Kieran Mullins exploded for 4 goals, including 3 in the fourth quarter to power the Knights to victory and establishing himself as a scoring threat for this team.
Heningburg, who usually roams behind the net waiting for close-range shots, moved out in front of the goal about 10 yards away from the net, giving him more space to work. Mullins took over in the role behind the net, and the move paid off, as Heningburg found Mullins with a crisp pass that Mullins finished while in mid air to clinch the victory.
“Talk about a guy who’s developing,” said Brecht. “He’s been spending a lot of time shooting on his own outside of practice, having a little more shot release points. Give him a lot of credit for putting in the time."
Stony Brook is a team that scored 25 goals on the road against that same Brown team that Rutgers scored 13 goals against, so the Knights will need all the offensive firepower they have to beat the undefeated Seawolves.
After Rutgers takes on Stony Brook, they will face off with No. 19 Princeton on Tuesday, its third straight ranked opponent. To Mullins, that is part of the process and a challenge that the team certainly enjoys.
“There’s nothing better than going against ranked teams,” he said. “That’s why we came to Rutgers, to beat those teams.”