Rutgers welcomes 2nd oldest rival this weekend

Following a shootout win at St. John’s, the Rutgers men's lacrosse team prepares to take on its toughest challenge yet as it welcomes No. 19 Army into Piscataway on Saturday afternoon.

The Black Knights (1-0) opened up their season last weekend, winning in overtime 12-11 against UMass. Army struggled in several areas of the game, most notably in face-offs. The Minutemen (0-1) had a 21-4 edge in face-offs won. They also had a 40-22 advantage in the ground ball matchup. 

As a result, the Black Knights struggled to keep the ball and faced a firing squad -- they were outshot 50-27 in the game. They owe this win in large part thanks to their goalie AJ Barretto, who got 17 saves in the last game and maintains a save percentage of 60.7 percent.

Despite these shortcomings, Army does have some potent attackers for the No. 8 Scarlet Knights (2-0) to contend with. The team returns its leading scorer Nate Jones, who scored 23 goals and tacked on 10 assists last season.

Another attacker to keep an eye on is Brandon Nichtern, who led the Black Knights in scoring last week with 4 goals along with three assists, including the game-winner in overtime.

“I think the Army game is going to be a lot more spirited, a lot more contested,” said head coach Brian Brecht. “As far as shots, clearances and backups, we’re going to have to be sharp.” 

One area where Rutgers has an advantage is in the attack position. The Knights are averaging 16 goals per game, and the offense has been bolstered by dynamic attackmen, in particular junior Kieran Mullins and sophomore Adam Charalambides. 

Rutgers has had to deal with key injuries, most notably to fifth-year senior goalie Max Edelmann, who has been out with a right leg injury for the first two games of the season and is questionable against the Black Knights. 

“I think it’s just a testament to my teammates,” Mullins said about his performance. “I don’t think it’s just an individual effort, I think it's a team effort.”

As for Charalambides, he’s been another major scoring threat, with 8 goals and two assists on the year. Charalambides has returned quickly to the form he demonstrated during his freshman season in 2016, when he was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year. He scored 43 goals and tallied 14 assists three years ago.

The Knights had to deal with key injuries, most notably to fifth-year senior goalie Max Edelmann, who has been out with a right leg injury for the first two games of the season and is questionable against the Black Knights. 

Rutgers has had to go to freshman goalie Ben Pounds to man the pipes. Pounds is coming off a career-high 15 saves against St. John’s, and is putting up an 11.50 goals-against average on the year.

The other main injury is fifth-year senior face-off specialist Connor Harryman, who went down early against the Red Storm. He has been ruled out for this weekend's game and has no timetable for a return at press time. 

Harryman was a major asset for the Knights on face-offs. In the season opener against Lafayette, he won 22 out of 25 face-offs and earned Rutgers extra possessions throughout the game. In his absence, face-off specialists freshman Michael Ott and fifth-year senior Alex Schoen have been taking the bulk of the face-offs, with Ott going 10 of 17 and Schoen going 5 of 17 against St. John’s. 

While Harryman’s absence is a big loss for the Knights, Ott and Schoen will have a major opportunity to exploit Army’s weakness in the faceoffs on Saturday.

This game is an early but important test for Rutgers in its quest to finally return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 15 years. But what makes this game so important is the long history between these two teams: the Knights and the Black Knights have met 82 times in their history. 

Rutgers will be playing for more than just another resume booster on Saturday, an element which Brecht alluded to earlier this week.

“It’s going to be tough. It’s going to be a battle,” Brecht said. “Army is the second longest (rivalry, with) Princeton being the longest, so it's always a one goal game, (whether) we’re at home or on the road.”

For updates on the Rutgers men's lacrosse team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

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