Why Rutgers’ Long-Awaited Breakthrough Will Come in 2019

PHOTO BY JOHN STROHSACKER

Kieran Mullins quietly led the Big Ten with 15 goals in conference play last season.


US Lacrosse Magazine released the Nike/US Lacrosse Division I Men’s Preseason Top 20 on Jan. 2. Team-by-team previews will be unveiled on uslaxmagazine.com through the end of the month and will also appear as part of the magazine’s NCAA preview edition in February.

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No. 14 Rutgers

2018 Record: 9-6 (2-3 Big Ten)
Coach: Brian Brecht (8th year)
All-Time Record: 605-505-14
NCAA Appearances: 9
Final Fours: 0
Championships: 0

Brian Brecht doesn’t shy away from the obvious. He knows the question is coming, and while the Rutgers coach doesn’t outright say it, he hopes it isn’t still lingering in mid-May.

When will the Scarlet Knights break through and earn their first NCAA tournament berth since 2004? Heavens knows it feels like they’ve been on the precipice of playing deeper into May for a while.

“To take that next step, it’s going to be more about us,” Brecht said. “We have to perform better in certain areas for a whole 60 minutes, not just finish well or start off well. We’ve established ourselves as a really good program and having some really good players. To take that next step, we have to be great and elite.”

Rutgers was one of the last couple teams left out of the NCAA field in both 2016 and 2017, and it was plenty competitive with postseason teams last year. It beat Syracuse and played Johns Hopkins and Maryland to one-goal decisions in the regular season.

Having to retool without Adam Charalambides, who suffered a preseason knee injury last January and missed his second year in a row, didn’t help matters. He’s back, but Rutgers has some other holes to fill effectively if it is to take a step forward.

Brecht thinks his team’s midfield depth is better than ever, providing plenty of options to complement senior Casey Rose (21 goals), who will draw even more attention after Christian Mazzone’s graduation.

Two starters depart on defense, but Brecht is confident senior Garrett Michaeli will effectively transition from long pole to complement returning starter Garrett Bullett. The Scarlet Knights lean heavily on their rope unit, preferring the depth of two poles and four short sticks to encourage transition and wear opponents down.

While long pole Kyle Pless and senior short stick Mark Christiano are proven options, Rutgers will need to sort out the three open spots in its short stick rotation.

Still, there’s one thing no one can question. After winning 30 games over the last three years and not having an NCAA tournament berth to show for it, this is a hungry program.

“Our guys see themselves as a postseason team, and they’ve been working and been having a little bit of a taste of having success in the regular season with some big wins,” Brecht said.

The Scarlet Knights are close. Don’t be stunned if that decade-and-a-half absence from the postseason comes to an end this year.






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The Case For Rutgers

Yes, the Scarlet Knights will miss attackman Jules Heningburg (37 goals, 35 assists). Yet there are a lot of knowns on attack.

“It’s a strength on paper and obviously on the field, too,” Brecht said. “We really return all three starting attackmen. Jules Heningburg graduated, but Kieran Mullins is a two-year starter, Tommy Coyne is a year older and better and oh, by the way, you bring back Adam who in 2016 was the Big Ten freshman of the year. We’re obviously going to miss Jules, but we have three starting attackmen who have performed pretty well at this level.”

With a junior, a redshirt sophomore and a sophomore, it’s a group that figures to create problems for Big Ten opponents beyond 2019.

The Case Against Rutgers

The Scarlet Knights won only 46 percent of their faceoffs last year. But it bears asking: Does the advent of the shot clock minimize the importance of this statistic?

“There’s theory, and reality,” Brecht said. “That faceoff percentage is important. That 50 percent is the Mason-Dixon line. We want to be on the right side of it — 55, 57, 58 percent.”

Joe Francisco (47.7 percent) graduated, leaving senior Alex Schoen (48.3) as the most established holdover. Look for Towson transfer Connor Harryman to compete for a spot in a possible committee. Brecht was also impressed with freshman Michael Ott’s work in the fall.

Path to the Playoffs

A poor nonconference schedule kept Rutgers out of the tournament in 2016, and Brecht responded accordingly. The Scarlet Knights have added series with Brown (2017), Syracuse (2018) and now Loyola to complement a loaded Big Ten schedule.

So the opportunities to impress are there, and Rutgers’ capable offense got to 10 goals against every school in the league except for Ohio State last season. If the defense can reload and the faceoff game improves, the Scarlet Knights will again be in the hunt for an NCAA bid.

Players To Watch

Adam Charalambides, A, R-So.
43G, 14A in 2016

So, how good will Charalambides be after losing two seasons to torn ACLs? He was cleared in the fall but did not participate in contact drills. “We’re planning on him being out there in the spring of 2019, and I want him out there late into the season in 2019,” Brecht said.

Max Edelmann, G, R-Sr.
9.52 GAA, .505 SV%

Edelmann received a sixth year of eligibility last spring, and his return should provide some stability for a defense that graduated mainstays Michael Rexrode and Alex Bronzo. Edelmann played every minute for the Scarlet Knights last season and had double-digit saves in five of the team’s six games against Big Ten opponents.

Kieran Mullins, A, Jr.
31 G, 41.9 SH%

Don’t overlook Mullins, whose 15 goals in conference play led the Big Ten. He ranked second on the roster in assists with 17, an area of his game that could continue to develop with Charalambides’ return and the graduation of Heningburg.

National Rankings

Category

Rank

Value

Offense 24th 11.20 GPG
Defense 23rd 9.53 GAA
Faceoffs 46th 46.0 FO%
Ground Balls 34th 27.80/game
Caused TO 37th 6.47/game
Shooting 11th 32.9%
Man-Up 46th 28.9%
Man-Down 19th 69.8%
Assists 19th 6.73/game
Turnovers 15th 11.40/game
Clearing 28th 88.1%

Power Ratings (Scale of 1-5)

Offense
⭐⭐⭐⭐

Defense
⭐⭐⭐

Goalkeeping
⭐⭐⭐

Faceoff
⭐⭐

2-9

Rutgers is 2-9 in Big Ten road games since the conference began sponsoring lacrosse in 2015, with the victories coming at Johns Hopkins (2016 Big Ten semifinals) and Michigan (2017).

5-Year Trend
Winning Percentage

Year

Rank

Pct

2014 33rd 50.0
2015 53rd 33.3
2016 14th 68.8
2017 12th 71.4
2018 20th 60.0

Coach Confidential
Brian Brecht

“I’ll be the first to tell you, we need to win one more Big Ten game. That either has to come in the regular season or it has to come in the conference tournament. In 2016, if we win one more Big Ten game, we’re the Big Ten champs. In 2017, if we won one more Big Ten conference game, we’re in the Big Ten tournament and probably have [enough]. Win one more in 2018, and add that to all the things we had with strength of schedule and RPI and quality wins. We have to take care of business.”

Enemy Lines

“If they continue to build on the success they’ve had and continue with that the legacy of the group that just left, they’re going to be a challenge. They have good kids coming in. With Charalambides back, they get a guy who was really good two years ago. What could they have been like last year? They have to replace a good defenseman who could cover just about anybody. They did a nice job getting the goalie back for another year.”

“Gets a couple of these guys back who have been injured. I don’t even know how to pronounce his name, the Canadian lefty, he’s finally back. The addition of Dan Cocchi, one of the best young defensive coaches in the country, and Eric Seremet coming over — [Brian Brecht’s] two top recruits might have been those guys. Look at his staff.”

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