Rutgers seeks fifth straight win, revenge in matchup with Monmouth

<p>Sophomore midfielder Christian Mazzone caused four turnovers and scooped four grounds in Rutgers’ prior win against Wagner.</p>

Sophomore midfielder Christian Mazzone caused four turnovers and scooped four grounds in Rutgers’ prior win against Wagner.

The Rutgers men’s lacrosse team didn’t flinch when it was picked to finish last in the Big Ten.

Before the season, its lone season-long captain Scott Bieda said that, while Scarlet Knights don’t pay attention to the polls, they knew they had a better team than being given credit for, and would finish the season higher than where they were placed.

Four games into the 2016 campaign, it appears that the senior attacker had a better feel of his team than those who voted the Knights to finish last.

Rutgers sits on top of its conference, as the only team remaining without a loss, and its performance on the field has caused them to slingshot into the national polls.

On Monday, the undefeated Knights landed at No. 16 in the USILA Coaches Poll, their first national ranking since the 2011 season. The following day, Rutgers protected its unscathed record with a dominating performance on the road against Wagner (1-3) for its fourth win of the season.

After the win, the Rutgers’ captain reiterated that outside perceptions, even when it comes in a positive form such as a national ranking, have remained out of the locker room.

“We’re not looking at polls,” Bieda said. “We could care less about who someone ranks us by. We’re not gonna let that effect who we are and what we do. Our team is a team that likes people doubting us. We’re a team that doesn’t need to be ranked or anything like that. We know who we are in our locker room and we know the players that we have and our capabilities.”

Rutgers’ unwavering attitude towards polls off the field has been an evident trait in its play on the field as well. No matter the opponent, the Knights play hard for a full 60 minutes and Tuesday’s matchup with an inferior Wagner squad was no different.

Coming off just two days rest, Rutgers was keyed in from the first faceoff as its second lead of the game at the 6:42 mark of the first quarter would hold until the final horn.

For the third time this season, the Knights jumped ahead of an opponent by a wide margin and kept the opponent at arms length for the remainder of the game. They held a lead of at least six over the Seahawks for the final 35 minutes and change as they cruised to a 15-7 win.

After picking up its second win in four days, Rutgers will wrap up a stretch of three games over the span of eight days on Saturday, when it will have the chance to achieve yet another impressive feat on the young season, albeit against an intrastate foe.

The No. 16 Knights will have the opportunity to tie last year’s win output in its 2 p.m. matchup against Monmouth in Long Branch, New Jersey, Saturday.

A win would give Rutgers its best start to a season since 2003, while also getting some revenge on the Hawks.

When the two New Jersey lacrosse programs met last year at High Point Solutions Stadium, Rutgers had a one-goal advantage entering the final quarter. 

With the score locked at eight with under six minutes remaining, Monmouth scored two consecutive goals in a 50-second span to take the lead. Rutgers scored with four minutes left, but the Hawks held on for the 10-9 win.

That loss, which was the first of six defeats of two goals or less, still hasn’t escaped the minds of the Knights.

“We definitely remember that game,” said sophomore midfielder Christian Mazzone. “That was one of our low points last year, so we’re definitely going to take them real seriously this week and prepare for them hard.”

The players weren’t the only ones who remember how disappointing that loss was.

“I still remember it like it was yesterday,” said head coach Brian Brecht. “So we’re gonna put this (Wagner win) to bed real quickly and we’re gonna start thinking about (Monmouth) right now … The coaching staff has already been game planning behind the scenes cause it is a short week for us …. We’re gonna go right to Monmouth, and that’s a huge game for us and our program and for the guys in that locker room.”

Last season, the Hawks’ were a team that utilized a defensive style of play, causing their games to be very low scoring. In 2015, Monmouth scored double-digit goals in 3 of its 13 regular season games, but only surrendered more than nine goals twice.

That style of play has translated to this season as the Hawks collected their wins with final scores of 11-5 over Jacksonville and 8-4 over Wagner. Monmouth does boast the top scoring defense in the nation through two games played, but it has yet to face a scoring attack as lethal as the Knights’.

While the Hawks were able to hold Rutgers to just nine goals last season, duplicating that kind of defensive performance is going to be a lot tougher this time around.

The Knights enter Saturday’s matchup with the No. 7 scoring offense in the nation — scoring an average of 14.75 goals per game — and have not been held to under 12 goals all season. 

Their top attacking line contains the No. 8 and No. 9 point scorers in the nation in Bieda and sophomore attacker Jules Heningburg respectively, and the No. 7 goal scorer in redshirt freshman Adam Charalambides.

That top line has contributed for 37 of Rutgers' 59 goals, while also adding 20 assists.

The Knights will need to continue to play unselfishly in the offensive zone against a stout Monmouth defense, as that’s what has made it so dynamic this season, Bieda said.

“There’s definitely a lot of chemistry,” Bieda said of the attack unit. “I think the best thing is that we can all keep our heads up when we’re dodging so we’re capable of scoring, but we’re also capable of assisting each other, which is huge. We’re always open to making that one more pass, you know, maybe we could shoot it, but instead we’re making that one more pass and then we have a dunk and a layup inside. So I think that’s really the difference with our team and maybe some other powerhouse offenses.”

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

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