No. 9 Rutgers hosts No. 6 Johns Hopkins in Big Ten opener
The stage won’t get much bigger than Sunday night for the Rutgers men’s lacrosse team, who is set to host No. 6 Johns Hopkins in its Big Ten opener.
“These are games you grow up watching,” said junior defender Garrett Michaeli. “These are the games you live for. We’re excited to play such a historic team.”
The No. 9 Scarlet Knights are looking to open conference play with a bang, after falling to the Blue Jays in last year's conference opener by a score of 12-6 on the road.
In that game, then-junior attacker Jules Heningburg failed to score a goal and registered just one assist.
It was an offensive performance that was uncharacteristic for a Rutgers team that had been so good on that end.
“They really just force you to win your matchup. Last year we weren’t really prepared in terms of our mindset,” Heningburg said. “We’re really gonna work hard this week to attack those matchups.”
But Sunday night offers the Knights the ability to right that wrong from 2017 against a Hopkins team that has won five straight and is coming off a win against then-No. 10 Virginia, where it was down 9-2 at halftime but came back to win by a score of 15-13.
Rutgers, on the other hand, is a winner of three straight, including ranked wins over Lehigh and Syracuse.
Heading into Big Ten play, head coach Brian Brecht said that he likes where his team is right now, even though there is always room for improvement.
“We’re in a good spot right now,” he said. “… We have to take care of ourselves. We have to be fundamentally sound, we have to play hard, we have to practice hard, we have to prepare well during the week. We have to play well when the whistle blows.”
The Knights’ defense will have its hands full with the Jays, who are sixth in the nation with 13.25 goals per game. But the Rutgers defense is allowing just 9 per game, and something will have to give.
At High Point Solutions Stadium, the Knights have won 19 of their last 20, and in their last home game against Hopkins, came away with a 16-9 win in front of a then-record crowd of 3,653 fans.
“This is really why you come to play college lacrosse, is these big-time wins. It’s all about embracing the moment and playing one play at a time,” Heningburg said.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for the team will come at the faceoff X, where it has struggled and the Jays have been dominant.
Hunter Moreland takes all the faceoffs for them and is one of the best in the country, winning 65.8 percent of them.
For Rutgers, Brecht has used many different combinations of guys at the X to try and create favorable matchups.
“We’ll certainly have our hands full with that matchup, because he is so talented. We are who we are,” Brecht said. “We’ll have to find ways to get added possessions if the faceoffs are not always going in our favor.”
He has two seniors in Alex Schoen and Joe Francisco who are 51 and 47 percent, respectively, on the season.
All season long, Brecht has talked about how the Knights simply need to take care of themselves and things will be fine.
“We’re ready to get out there and play how we’ve played all season, hard Rutgers lacrosse,” Michaeli said. “We’re excited to come back and see how everything’s gonna go. Just set the tone.”