No. 11 Rutgers closes out non-conference play with Delaware
The Rutgers men's lacrosse team rolled into Newark, Delaware at this time last year as the undefeated, No. 1 team in the country, looking to close out its non-conference slate with one last win before Big Ten play.
Perhaps the Scarlet Knights had a little too much swagger that day, as they were jumped by the unranked Blue Hens and were upset by a score of 13-9 in a game that they were never really competitive in.
"We've learned from the experience of last year," said head coach Brian Brecht. "We let the emotions and the fanfare get the best of us."
A year later, Rutgers sits at No. 11 and Delaware is a much more respected program than it was in 2017.
This time around, the Knights will host the Blue Hens at High Point Solutions Stadium, a venue they have won 18 of their last 19 games in, with the only loss coming last season in triple overtime to eventual national champion Maryland.
There will be no concern of whether Rutgers will come out ready for the Blue Hens on Saturday night, as that season-altering loss in 2017 is one the team has not forgotten about.
"We kinda took that loss hard," said senior midfielder and captain Christian Mazzone. "We've been thinking about it ever since. We've always wanted to play them again. We didn't feel right about that game, we know we didn't play our best. (The) revenge factor is definitely on this week."
Delaware boasts a strong attack, but will no longer have last year's leading scorer Andrew Romagnoli, who was dismissed from the team for a "violation of team policies" along with three other players.
The other notable player dismissed from the team is defender Connor Lalley, who started 12 of 13 games a year ago and played in the first five games of this season, starting the first two.
The Blue Hens had a strong start to the season, going 3-0 and taking No. 8 Villanova to overtime, but they lost that game and the next three as well. They played No. 9 Johns Hopkins tough last week in their first game without Romagnoli and Lalley, but could not hang with the Blue Jays for all 60 minutes, ultimately falling by a score of 14-8.
Delaware sits at 3-4 on the season, and its game against the Knights is its final non-conference game before opening Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) play.
For Rutgers, this game is about closing out its non-conference schedule with a bang. With the Knights opening up Big Ten play with No. 9 Johns Hopkins, it is important that they are playing with confidence entering the five-game conference gauntlet.
"We want to be 7-2 going into the Big Ten instead of 6-3," Mazzone said. "You really use it as a springboard going into Big Ten play."
Rutgers has relied on its elite defense, strong midfield and opportunistic offense so far this season. If there's one area that the Knights aren't particularly strong in, it is at the faceoff X. As a team, it is 47.1 percent with seniors Joe Francisco and Alex Schoen splitting time.
In the team's win over then-No. 13 Syracuse on Sunday, Francisco started slow and Schoen came in to give a different look and play a big role in Rutgers' 7-0 run that gave the team a 14-10 win over the Orange.
Brecht has previously spoken about how he likes to be able to use different players to take advantage of various matchups they may face.
"It's about matchups. Stats sometimes can tell (you) a body of work," Brecht said. "... Each individual faceoff and game is its own."
On Sunday, it worked out to be Schoen's game and he delivered. Against the Blue Hens, there's no telling who could go out and take the faceoffs, but Brecht remains confident in his two guys being able to get the job done.
The one thing that is not an unknown on Saturday is that the Knights will not come out flat and low-energy at home and under the lights.
Brecht noted that last year his team learned that it doesn't always "smell like roses" and Rutgers will want to play well for its home crowd, like it always does.
"It's definitely a revenge game. We don't like losing," said senior goalie Max Edelmann. "It's nice to have them at home under the lights this Saturday. It's gonna be a fun game. They're a competitive team, and they have a good strong offense over there."