No. 11 Rutgers faces No. 13 Army in first road game of season
Knights moved down 3 spots after updates
In just its third game of the season, the Rutgers men’s lacrosse team faces a tough task, as the No. 11 Scarlet Knights (2-0) hit the road to take on No. 13 Army (2-0).
The Black Knights are off to a scorching start to the year, winning their first two games by scores of 18-6 and 14-5, respectively.
They boast a balanced attack, having four different players with at least 5 goals and three players with at least 8 total points.
It will be a challenge for the Rutgers defense, but the team’s best unit is loaded with experience and features the likes of seniors Michael Rexrode and Alex Bronzo, who have both played in their fair share of big games.
Head coach Brian Brecht is not deterred by Army, knowing that his group of upperclassmen are up to the task and won’t be rattled when going on the road for the first time this season.
“One of the things I’ve been very proud to talk about and share is our 14 seniors and our leadership and our balance,” Brecht said earlier in the week. “The guys that we have on the defensive end and the offensive end. (Army is) a veteran team, we’re a veteran team.”
Not only do the Scarlet Knights boast 14 seniors, but a majority of them are key players, such as goalie Max Edelmann, Rexrode and Bronzo on defense, Christian Trasolini and Christian Mazzone in the midfield, Jules Heningburg up top, and either Joe Francisco or Alex Schoen at the faceoff X.
And as for faceoffs, it was an area in which the Black Knights struggled in their first game, using four different guys but going just 9-of-25 (36 percent). They cleaned it up in their most recent game, using mainly John Ragno (12-of-13) and Evan Condon (5-of-6) to go 87 percent for the game.
Rutgers is still looking for consistency in that area, as Schoen went a respectable 61.9 percent in the season opener, but was just 47 percent against St. John's. Brecht went with a long-stick in junior Kyle Pless for the final six faceoffs of the game.
Francisco has been banged up and hasn’t seen action yet, but went 57 percent in 2017 as the full-time faceoff specialist and Brecht said that he has been practicing and hopes he will be available on Saturday.
Most of the Scarlet Knights' early struggles have been due to being beat at the faceoff X early and not being able to gain momentum on offense.
“Every game, the ability to win the X position is going to be extremely important,” Brecht said. “That’s always something we wanna have in our favor. Controlling the possessions, controlling the offensive opportunities, controlling the tempo. It’s not so much about who they are, it’s about what we do.”
If the team fails to execute the X, it will make an already tough challenge for the defense even more difficult.
But even if that is the case, Bronzo is confident in his position group due to its extensive experience in big games. Last season against a ranked Brown team, Bronzo forced five turnovers and grabbed five ground balls against an offense that featured the returning Tewaaraton Award winner in Dylan Molloy.
“(The experience) is huge. We’ve all been in big moments,” Bronzo said. “We’ve all seen the big games. We know what teams are gonna come at us with so we know what to prepare for. It just gives us that confidence. We’re not having the jitters or nerves anymore cause each one of us has played in big games before.”
Garrett Michaeli is just as confident, as he noted that it is just like any other week of preparation for the defense.
Edelmann, Rexrode, Bronzo and Michaeli all know what it takes to neutralize a strong offense, and despite how great the challenge a road game against a ranked opponent may seem, it’s just business as usual for them.
“We’ll come out there, we’ll play as a team, we’ll do our job,” Michaeli said. “… In the end it’s gonna come down to how well we talk, how well we approach everyone, how well the defense is clicking and what we do to overcome those difficulties.”