No. 13 Rutgers looks to bounce back against Fairfield
Knights are coming off first loss of season to No. 9 Army
Looking to rebound after a 9-7 loss to then-No. 13 Army, the Rutgers men’s lacrosse team will host Fairfield at High Point Solutions Stadium on Saturday at noon.
The Stags have started off the season 1-1, falling to No. 17 Vermont 12-5 in the season opener and defeating St. Joe’s 11-6 last Saturday.
They feature a balanced offense, with four players having scored at least 2 goals so far this season.
The biggest challenge that Fairfield presents is at the faceoff X, where senior Will Fox is off to a blistering 73.8-percent mark through two games, good for second in the country.
That area has been a glaring weakness for the No. 13 Scarlet Knights (2-1) through three games, as senior Alex Schoen, junior Kyle Pless and senior Joe Francisco have combined to go 49.2 percent.
But, Schoen has been the go-to guy for the team, taking 51 of the 65 faceoffs in the early season.
Francisco, who was the starter a season ago, missed the first two games with an injury but worked his way back into the lineup last week against Army, where he went 3-of-7.
Head coach Brian Brecht would not commit to one specific player, but noted that he was impressed with the way Francisco has worked his way back and that he feels comfortable using either him or Schoen.
“I’m pleased that JoJo had a good week of practice. He’s healthy and he practiced well,” Brecht said. “Certainly it was nice to have him in the rotation in that position. There’s contact, there’s competition, it’s a big part of the game. Having two guys you feel very confident in as opposed to one is only gonna help us.”
Rutgers has faced plenty of adversity already in addition to being without Francisco to start the season, losing starting sophomore attacker Adam Charalambides for the entire year due to an injury that took place in the preseason.
As a result Brecht has turned to true freshman Tommy Coyne, who only just turned 18, and as an early enrollee who is still supposed to be in high school. But when Brecht received the news about Charalambides, he was forced to throw Coyne into the fire, who has adjusted very well.
In his first game, he came off the bench against Robert Morris and did not record a point. The next week against St. John’s, he earned his first career start and logged an assist. Then he broke out against Army last week, scoring a hat trick in a 2-minute span to help the Knights come back from an early 5-1 deficit.
“The kid is incredibly talented for a freshman,” said fifth-year senior captain Christian Mazzone of Coyne. “... He’s just gonna keep getting better, keep learning the offense.We’re gonna keep teaching him how to play the right way at Rutgers, and he’s only gonna help us going forward.”
The team has lacked in offensive execution at times this season, with a number of missed opportunities and unforced turnovers leading to a subpar performance against the Black Knights. If Coyne continues to develop at the pace he is, the Rutgers attack unit of senior Jules Heningburg, sophomore Kieran Mullins and Coyne has a chance to be special.
When asked about what the team could fix going into Fairfield, Mazzone listed a multitude of things, such as converting opportunities on offense and limiting unforced turnovers, such as moving screens and crease violations.
It is clear that the Knights are one of the most talented teams in the country, but they have gone through some clear growing pains to start the season.
Saturday’s game offers Rutgers a chance to go out and make right the mistakes it saw in the film from the loss to Army.
But it won’t be a walk in the park, as senior goalkeeper Max Edelmann, the anchor of the defense, noted that there is never an opportunity to take a game off and that the team can’t continue to come out sloppy.
“Every game’s a dogfight. No matter if we’re playing someone in the beginning of the season or once it gets toward Big Ten games, every game is gonna be hard,” Edelmann said. “We have to treat every week like we’re playing a top-10 opponent. From here on out, it’s gonna be a dogfight, and we gotta make sure we’re prepared and respecting our opponents each week.”