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Attacker leads Rutgers offense in debut season

<p>Redshirt freshman attacker Adam Charalambides said sitting out in 2015 gave him time to better understand the game.</p>

Redshirt freshman attacker Adam Charalambides said sitting out in 2015 gave him time to better understand the game.

It didn’t take long for head coach Brian Brecht to ponder what could have been had Adam Charalambides been in the lineup last season.

In reality, it took just one game.

In 2015, the Rutgers men’s lacrosse team finished 5-10 in its inaugural season in the Big Ten, going 1-4 in conference play.

But the Scarlet Knights’ record wasn’t indicative of their play on the field, as they lost 6 of their 10 games by two goals or less. Those tough defeats included one-goal losses to then-No. 3 Maryland and then-No. 10 Princeton along with a 2-point loss to then-No. 19 Army.

While the Knights were finishing on the short side of close games one after another, Charalambides was spending his full true freshman season on the sideline nursing a knee injury that he had surgery on.

In the 2016 opener against St. John’s, Charalambides was finally able to make his collegiate debut as a redshirt freshman, and he seemed to do everything he could to make up for lost time.

On the same day he turned 20 years old, Charalambides scored a game-high six goals and added an assist in the Knights’ 19-11 rout of St. John’s at High Point Solutions Stadium. 

His six goals were the most a Rutgers freshman has scored in a game in over 30 years and placed him in a tie for the fifth-most scores in a game by any player in program history.

After the game, his head coach said it would have been nice to have that kind of offensive weapon in the lineup during those close losses from the prior year.

“Having an injury last year, it stinks, but he worked his butt off. He rehabbed and he’s on a mission,” said Brian Brecht after Charalambides' dazzling debut. “You have a guy like him who’s a redshirt freshman, you know, we had a couple one-goal games last year, would’ve been nice to have him healthy last year. But give him a lot of credit for having the edge and working so hard to be in this position.”

Charalambides’ lethal goal-scoring abilities can be traced back to his days of box lacrosse in Canada. As a native of Ontario, he played box lacrosse for a junior team — the Halton Hill Bulldogs — in his final two years of high school. 

Playing on the C-level team while he was a junior, the attacker scored 58 goals and tallied 77 assists over 28 games, leading his team to a championship season. Moving up to the B-level team for his senior season, he compiled 71 goals and 80 assists in 29 games.

What makes his staggering statistics from his junior box lacrosse career even more impressive was the net he was shooting at was a mere 4 feet tall and 4 feet wide. The goal size in the National League of Lacrosse is 9 inches wider than that and the goals in field lacrosse are 2 feet wider and taller than box lacrosse goals.

Although box lacrosse is a different game from field lacrosse, he said playing in the close quarters of box lacrosse helped improve his reaction time.

After scoring at will on a tight goal in box lacrosse, Charalambides is continuing to have success on a much bigger target in field lacrosse for Rutgers.

Since leading the Knights in his debut, Charalambides has remained Rutgers top goal scorer, finding the back of the cage a total of 22 times through eight games. In half of his games played, he has scored at least three goals and has put together an effort of at least four points a total of five times.

His stellar play on the offensive end has earned him Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors five times in six weeks.

Brecht said when Rutgers recruited Charalambides, it knew he was going to able to constantly light up the scoreboard, so the redshirt freshman's success hasn't come as a surprise.

"I've been pleased that he's been able to stay consistent. We're halfway through the year, obviously our competition is getting better and better," he said. "I'm excited for the challenges that he has in front of him individually and for us as a program. If he can stay consistent through the next five, six weeks, we're gonna be right where we want to be at the end of the season going into postseason play. I've been pleased, I've been not surprised and excited with his play." 

In a short amount of time, he’s shown his ability to score in a number of different fashions, whether it be unassisted after a variety of moves, from deep in the attack area or from right in front of the net as well.

Just eight games into his collegiate playing career, Charalambides is turning into a force on the offensive end, but the pace to which he has adjusted hasn't come to a surprise to him either. He said sitting out last year allowed him to understand the game more, better preparing him for this season.

“Just being around the program for another year really helped me understand the game, just being around it,” Charalambides said. “I am a freshman, but I don’t consider myself a freshman.”

So far, Charalambides has been the third and final piece to what is now a dangerously talented starting attack unit. The front line already featured senior Scott Bieda, who finished with 50 points and landed on the First Team All-Big Ten last year, and sophomore Jules Heningburg, who scored 21 goals. 

With Charalambides now in the mix, that starting trio has combined for 57 goals. Additionally that trio has combined for 35 assists, usually setting up one another for goals. 

"Honestly, it all goes out to them," Charalambides said of playing alongside Heningburg and Bieda. "Probably all of my goals are assisted from either one of them or the rope unit. So I gotta thank everyone of my teammates that move the ball and stuff like that."

Last year, a deep and young attack unit helped Rutgers finish at No. 26 in the nation in scoring offense at 10.33 goals per game. With that exceptional starting unit, along with the young depth that has another year of experience, the Knights have scored an average of 12.50 goals, good for No. 13.

Originally voted to finish last in the Big Ten in the preseason polls, Rutgers has broken out as one of the surprise teams this season, getting off to its best start since 2003 and cracking the national rankings for the first time in Brecht’s tenure as coach

But regardless of how the rest of this season plays out for Rutgers, one thing’s for sure — Adam Charalambides will be a force to be reckoned with on the attack over the next four years.

“He’s a great player,” Bieda said following the game against St. John's. “I’m so happy for him to come off that first game being positive scoring six goals, I mean that’s huge. But he’s gonna continue to do that, he’s a great player and I’m excited for him.”

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

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