Rutgers closes out home slate vs. Michigan on Senior Day
When the season began on the first weekend in February, the Rutgers men's lacrosse team only had one thing on its mind: finish in the top four and qualify for the Big Ten Tournament on home turf at HighPoint.com Stadium.
But the Scarlet Knights (6-6, 1-2) have followed up on a top-five win over Ohio State with losses to Johns Hopkins and Maryland, putting themselves in a must-win position on Saturday when they take on Michigan.
Putting together a complete 60-minute performance has been a challenge, and Rutgers has struggled to close out games all season. This was on display last Sunday against Maryland, in which the Knights had a 5-goal lead during the second quarter, but collapsed down the stretch by conceding 5 of the last 6 goals in a 16-13 loss.
Several factors have combined to make things difficult for Rutgers down the stretch, including the rise of younger, more inexperienced players and the gauntlet that is the Big Ten lacrosse schedule.
“I think we're a better team now than we were a month ago,” said head coach Brian Brecht. “But our schedule has gotten a lot tougher. Maryland is No. 2 in the country, Ohio State is ranked and Hopkins is ranked. We’re playing better lacrosse down the stretch, but we’re playing better teams down the stretch.”
If you had to pick a Big Ten opponent to face in a must-win, the Wolverines (3-8, 0-3) would probably be the first choice. Michigan got off to a hot 3-1 start in February, but has lost its last seven games and is coming off a blowout 17-7 loss to No. 1 Penn State.
The Knights will have to contend with some playmakers on Saturday, especially the attacking duo of the Wolverines' Alex Buckanavage and Kevin Mack, who have combined to put up 40 goals and 34 assists on the season.
In goal, Michigan will start Tommy Heidt, who is coming off a nine-save game in the loss to Penn State.
“I think that we have to take care of ourselves,” Brecht said. “We have to make sure that we're focusing on us and what we do.”
As if the postseason implications weren’t big enough, the Wolverines' game is also Senior Day, and Rutgers will be honoring the contributions of vital contributors like fifth-year senior goalie Max Edelmann and senior defensemen Kyle Pless and Garrett Michaeli.
If the Knights fail to make the Big Ten Tournament, this will be their final game on the Banks.
“I owe this program my life,” Michaeli said. “It has made me into the man I am today, and I am so grateful to have spent time with the guys here.”
Senior Day has historically been a successful day for Rutgers. The 2015 season ended with a Senior Day upset over then-No. 3 Ohio State. For this group of seniors, their special day will have an added sense of urgency with a spot in a home-turf Big Ten Tournament on the line.
“I think this program has really helped me grow as a player and a person,” Pless said. “This group of seniors here have really tried to change the culture here.”
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