No. 8 Rutgers looks to continue undefeated start against St. John's on Saturday
The Rutgers men's lacrosse team will look to keep its early-season momentum going when it plays host to St. John's this Saturday at 1 p.m. at High Point Solutions Stadium.
While it will be the season opener for the visiting Red Storm, the No. 8 Scarlet Knights (1-0) are coming off an 11-7 win over Robert Morris to open their 2018 campaign.
This marks the fourth straight season that St. John's opens its season against Rutgers, with the Knights winning each of the last three contests, including a dominating 16-8 result last year.
For Rutgers, the focus will be on fixing the numerous errors it made Saturday against the Colonials, such as its 13 turnovers or scooping up 31 ground balls to Robert Morris' 36.
But there are also the positives for the team to build on, such as the five assists by senior attacker and captain Jules Heningburg, who was quick to credit his teammates for doing the work up top.
"The guys are just getting open for me," Heningburg said. "I just dodge hard and the rest of the guys get open and I find them."
There was also the performance of the defense, one that produced the Big Ten's first Defensive Player of the Week for 2018 in junior Garrett Michaeli. In his first career start, Michaeli caused a turnover and picked up five ground balls.
Senior defender and captain Michael Rexrode also had a strong game, as he led the team with two caused turnovers, while also grabbing three ground balls.
"(I'm) very proud of the defense," head coach Brian Brecht said. "I thought Alex Bronzo did a great job. Michael Rexrode, everybody knows about him. Garrett Bullett for his debut, so to speak, really impressed with those guys on the defensive end for us."
Bullett is a redshirt freshman who missed the majority of last season with an injury but returns to join junior Kyle Pless as the team's two starters at longstick midfield. With Bullett's return, it allowed for Brecht to slide Michaeli back to defense, where he has experience, which led to a near seamless transition to replace the now-graduated Chris Groel.
Saturday's game against the Red Storm also gives the Knights the opportunity to work out the third attack spot and continue to get some of its true freshmen into the game.
In the win against Robert Morris, both Tommy Coyne and Ryan Gallagher saw the field for their first career action. Coyne is a mid-year enrollee, meaning he should still be finishing his senior year of high school, but is instead playing Division I lacrosse for a top 10 team.
And it was Gallagher who made the most of his playing time, scoring a goal in his debut. Coyne was able to get a shot off and had some opportunities around the net, but could not capitalize.
"They have a lot of bounce. They're slick and they're smart players," Brecht said. "They see the field awful well. They have great feet and hands and they've been practicing well."
Playing this early in February is the earliest that Rutgers has started its lacrosse season in a long time, but it lets the team get valuable game experience before hitting the tough portion of its schedule, where ranked matchups are a weekly occurrence.
But Brecht knows that every week is a challenge and being a top 10 team means that the Knights are likely going to get their opponents best shot each and every week.
Each game is a chance for a guy like senior captain Christian Trasolini to continue to build chemistry as he works his way back into a feature role after missing last season with an injury.
He scored 3 goals in the season opener, but more importantly, was part of a very productive midfield unit that scored more than half of the team's goals.
"We've been practicing together since the fall. The chemistry's just been building," Trasolini said. "Everyone has a unique difference about them that allows us to play well together and that kind of showed."