Rutgers aims to maintain perfect record

<p>Sophomore attacker Jules Heningburg said Rutgers has worked hard to ensure that it comes out as winners late in close games.</p>

Sophomore attacker Jules Heningburg said Rutgers has worked hard to ensure that it comes out as winners late in close games.

In just two games, the Rutgers men’s lacrosse team has already shown substantial growth from last season.

In 2015, the Scarlet Knights were finding different ways to lose as they navigated through a tough schedule to a 5-10 record, which included six losses coming two goals or less.

This season, the Knights (2-0) have flipped the script and, despite still being a relatively young team, have tallied each of their wins in different fashions.

In the season opener, Rutgers led St. John’s for the final 49-plus minutes while keeping a lead of at least four goals for the final 42-plus minutes, en route to a dominating 19-11 win over St. John’s.

Against a much more formidable opponent, the Knights were given a tough test in its road matchup with Army last Saturday, but the end result was the same. 

After an evenly played first quarter, Rutgers controlled the action through the first four minutes of the third quarter while taking a 7-3 lead.

But the Black Knights fired back to tie the score early in the fourth and take their first lead of the game on a man advantage with just under six minutes left.

In a type of game the Knights finished on the short side of last year, the away team showcased a sign of growth after trailing for the first time in the game.

Rutgers pushed right back in scoring two consecutive times, capped off by a cutting Scott Bieda goal from right in front of the net, and held off the Black Knight’s final scoring push on a man advantage to escape with a signature 13-11 win.

“We had a couple of tough losses last year ... We’ve just been putting in the work just to kind of get on the other end of those games," said sophomore attacker Jules Heningburg. "It played out for us this time and hopefully for the rest of the season."

The common storyline in each of Rutgers’ first two wins has been its lethal, spread-out offensive attack. In both games, eight different players found the back of the net for the Knights.

Rutgers’ 13-goal effort against the Black Knights was more impressive than their 19-goal effort against the Red Storm. Army boasted a top-10 scoring defense last season, only surrendering a mere 8 goals per game and added the top goalie recruit in A.J. Barretto to the back of its defense.

On top of that, senior attacker Scott Bieda — who had 9 points in the opener and is the Knights’ lead facilitator on offense — totaled just 1 point, which came in the form of the eventual game-winning goal, against Army.

Rutgers producing 13 goals without Bieda having a huge hand in the scoring effort is a prime example of how deep its offensive attack is.

At the forefront of that attack has been redshirt sophomore Adam Charalambides. 

After scoring six goals in his first ever collegiate game, the attacker followed up his stellar debut performance with yet another team-leading tally of four scores against Army. 

Charalambides was awarded Big Ten Freshman of the Week for the first two weeks of the season for his blazing start.

With such a high-octane offense on their side, the Knights have the tools to score goals late in games, and they did just that against Army.

“I’m proud of how well this young team is executing those situations. Nothing for nothing, but the St. John’s win was a great win for us. But Army was receiving votes in the polls, Army was a 10-win program last year," said head coach Brian Brecht. "I think our assistant coaches are doing a great job of preparing the young guys and executing on the athletic abilities and the skill sets that we have to allow us to compete with a team like Army and get a big win on the road the way we have.”

Rutgers will now center its focus on a 3 p.m. matchup with Fairfield (0-2) this Saturday at High Point Solutions Stadium. 

Although the Stags come to Piscataway winless, their record is not indicative of their performance through the first two weeks of the season.

Fairfield opened its season with an 11-10 loss to Richmond, who received votes in the most recent Inside Lacrosse poll. In their second game, the Stags led No. 20 Bucknell at halftime before falling 13-8.

For the second consecutive game, the Knights will go up against a tough netminder in Tyler Behring. Through two games, Behring has denied 38 shots, totaling 23 of them in Fairfield’s previous game against Bucknell.

Rutgers’ unscathed record and its impressive road win over Army earned them votes in this week’s Inside Lacrosse Poll and USILA Coaches Poll, meaning a win over the Stags could catapult them into the top-20 in the country.

Possibly being a win away from cracking the national rankings is a complete 180-degree turn from the outside expectations of the Knights from the preseason, when they were voted to finish last in the Big Ten.

“I think we felt like we’re a very good team even though we were picked to be last in the Big Ten,” said freshman midfielder Mark Christiano. “We felt like we had a good group of guys, young guys and experience led by Scott Bieda and a couple of returners on offense ... Playing against Army, we really got to know who we are as a team. Winning a close game like that just shows we can win when it matters.”

For updates on the Rutgers men’s lacrosse team, follow @EricMullin_ and @TargumSports on Twitter.

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