Rutgers embraces underdog role, hungry for success in 2018 campaign
Brecht prepares for 7th season as Knights head coach
When the then-No. 12 Rutgers men’s lacrosse team upset No. 3 Ohio State in the 2017 season finale, it appeared to be a great confidence builder for the NCAA Tournament. After all, the Scarlet Knights had just wrapped up a 10-win campaign, with six of those coming against teams that were ranked at one point in the season.
But every single break went against Rutgers, and the team saw itself on the outside looking in for the second consecutive season.
Thanks to this, head coach Brian Brecht and his No. 8 ranked team enter 2018 with an underdog mentality, as hungry as ever for a postseason berth.
“We’re an underdog in every sense of the word,” said fifth-year senior midfielder and team captain Christian Trasolini. “That’s how we like to approach things. (With a) chip on our shoulder … Nothing is ever guaranteed to you and you have to earn everyone’s respect, regardless of what’s happened in the past.”
Trasolini, who missed the entirety of 2017 with an injury, is part of an incredibly strong group of seniors that will be the core of the team and has starters at every position.
With Jeff George graduating, Trasolini steps into that starting midfield spot to accompany returning starters in junior Casey Rose and senior captain Christian Mazzone. Trasolini has started 46 of 47 games in his career and is an Inside Lacrosse preseason Honorable Mention All-American.
Rose burst onto the scene a year ago with his rocket of a shot and ability to score from range. As a midfielder, he was third on the team with 21 goals.
Mazzone is 1 of 4 captains on the team and has been a key player in each of the last two seasons, scoring 12 goals and dishing out eight assists in 2017.
“The chemistry is definitely there. We just compliment each other very well. We all kind of have a little different thing about each other, which allows us to play well with each other,” Trasolini said.
On the defensive end, the Knights may have the best unit in the country. Senior captain Max Edelmann returns for his second straight year in goal after being named Second Team All-Big Ten in 2017 and a 2018 Big Ten Preseason Honoree.
The three defenders in front of Edelmann are led by senior captain Michael Rexrode, a 2017 First Team All-Big Ten and Third Team All-American honoree. Inside Lacrosse also named him a preseason First Team All-American and All-Conference for the upcoming season.
Rexrode has started every single game of his career on the Banks and is one of the top players in the country. He will start alongside senior Alex Bronzo and junior Garrett Michaeli.
Bronzo returns for his second straight season as a starter, while Michaeli moves back to defense full time after spending last season playing the long-stick midfield position with junior Kyle Pless, along with some time on defense.
“(Michaeli) got a lot of experience on game day. (Rexrode) and Bronzo were down there. It’s natural with all the experience Michaeli had last year to kind of slide him down,” Brecht said. “… That experience we have with Max in the cage, all those guys have been a big part of our defensive system throughout their careers.”
With Michaeli’s experience, it should be a seamless transition replacing the graduated Chris Groel, who led all defenders with his 55 ground balls.
What was expected to be among the best units in the country was the Rutgers attack unit, consisting of senior captain Jules Heningburg, sophomore Kieran Mullins and sophomore Adam Charalambides. But for the second straight year, Charalambides suffered a season-ending injury in the preseason, and Brecht will have to fill the void left by the 2016 Big Ten Freshman of the Year.
Brecht listed junior Connor Vercruysse and sophomore Mark Schachte — as well as true freshmen Tommy Coyne and Ryan Gallagher — as players who could help fill in the vacant spot up top.
Coyne enrolled early for the spring semester, meaning that he should still technically be in high school this spring, but instead could see himself thrust into action for one of the best lacrosse teams in the country.
It will likely take a couple of games for the unit to gain chemistry, but whoever fills in that third role will be in good hands with Heningburg and Mullins, who were a dynamic duo up top in 2017.
Mullins led the team with 35 goals and was a Second Team All-Big Ten selection, with his season being highlighted by an 8-goal performance against Michigan.
Heningburg was an Honorable Mention All-American by United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association (USILA) last season and was a 2016 First Team All-Big Ten selection.
Senior Joe Francisco looks to return after a breakout season of sorts at the faceoff X last season. He improved his faceoff conversion rate from 43 percent in 2016 to 57 percent in 2017 and proved a valuable asset to the team’s success.
The message the Knights are pushing is clear and will not leave their fate in the hands of a selection committee. It is about attacking each game as a new season and sending out the seniors on a high note.
“It’s entirely up to us,” Trasolini said. “... Why give someone else the opportunity to choose your fate when you can do it yourself.”
Edelmann echoed that sentiment, noting that there isn’t necessarily an increased sense of urgency, rather a mindset to finally put the program on the map for the seniors that have been here for every step of its rise to success.
With the experience and skill that the team boasts at every single spot, Brecht has built Rutgers into an elite program and one that is expected to make a deep run in 2018.
“There is a sense that we have these 13 seniors," Edelmann said. "We’ve been here for the past 3 years, and we wanna have our shot, and we feel like we deserve that this year."