2022 NCAA Lacrosse Preview: No. 16 Rutgers (Women)

PHOTO BY JOHN STROHSACKER

Taralyn Naslonski and Rutgers are a team on the rise heading into 2022.


The 2022 college lacrosse season is nearly upon us. As is our annual tradition, we’re featuring every team ranked in the Nike/USA Lacrosse Preseason Top 20.

Check back to USALaxMagazine.com each weekday this month for new previews, scouting reports and rival analysis.

NO. 16 RUTGERS

2021 Record: 7-9 (5-7 Big Ten)
Final Ranking (2021): No. 18
Coach: Melissa Lehman (3rd season)

On a Rutgers team that spreads the ball, plays unselfishly and can have a different star on any day, it’s Marin Hartshorn who steers the ship.

The quarterback of the Scarlet Knights’ offense, Hartshorn is an emotional leader.

“When she scores, the team gets fired up,” head coach Melissa Lehman said. “The team responds to her so well.”

The team’s draw specialist, Hartshorn is indeed a catalyst. Her individual draw numbers might not exemplify her impact, as she finished third on the team in that category. As the one taking the draw, Hartshorn is an expert at knowing exactly where to put the ball on the circle, allowing her teammates to win the ball and push the ball in transition.

And that’s where Rutgers thrives. It’s a blink-and-you-miss-it, pick-your-poison type of offense. Lehman doesn’t have a shortage of weapons at her disposal. There’s Cassidy Spilis, the junior midfielder who became a Big Ten star in 2021. Taralyn “TT” Naslonski, a program staple, provides the veteran punch. Hartshorn, Jenna Byrne and Ashley Campo emerged as reliable contributors last season, too.

NIKE/USAL PRESEASON TOP 20
TEAM PREVIEWS

1. Boston College

2. North Carolina

3. Syracuse

4. Northwestern

5. Stony Brook

6. Maryland

7. Notre Dame

8. Duke

9. Loyola

10. Florida

11. Virginia

12. James Madison

13. Princeton

14. Stanford

15. Denver

16. Rutgers

17. Drexel

18. Jacksonville

19. UConn

20. Penn

There’s room for growth, and a lingering excitement that Saint Joseph’s transfer Stephanie Kelly will take Rutgers to another level. The Atlantic 10 Co-Offensive Player of the Year, Kelly is the Hawks’ all-time assists leader and contributed a career-high 46 helpers a year ago.

“Looking in the transfer portal, we were very specific about what we were looking for,” said Lehman, who was conscious about not disrupting team culture and personality.

If there’s any question on the team, it’s on the defensive end. But even that unit is anchored by a nationally recognized star in Meghan Ball, the junior defender who makes an impact in the middle of the field, too.

Ball, Jessica Beneducci, Caroline Perry and others will have to fortify a unit featuring sophomore Sophia Cardello in the cage. Cardello, from Massapequa, N.Y., had flashes of excellence in 2021 as a freshman starter, but overall, there’s room for improvement. Lehman quickly pointed to her goalie as a breakout candidate, though, especially after the eye-popping work she did this fall.

Rutgers might be short on blue-chip prospects — not to undervalue the incredible talent that has blossomed in Piscataway — but Lehman thinks that’s part of the team’s story. It’s not always going to be flashy, and it might not always be pretty. But Rutgers learned last year how to get the job done and is comfortably confident heading into another season.

“It’s the Rutgers mentality. The Jersey mentality of toughness and grit,” Lehman said. “That’s who we are and what we talk about. That’s what I love about my players. They fight hard, and they compete hard. That’s a fun team to coach.”






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TOP RETURNERS

Cassidy Spilis, M, Jr.

A 2021 breakout, Spilis finished her sophomore campaign with 49 goals, 65 draw controls, 25 ground balls and 17 caused turnovers in 16 starts. She had at least a hat trick in nine games, cementing her status as a USA Lacrosse Magazine Preseason All-American heading into 2022.

Meghan Ball, D, Jr.

A lockdown defender who contributes in the middle of the field, Ball was the team leader in draw controls (75), ground balls (35) and caused turnovers (27) last spring. “Meghan is just reliable and gets it done,” Melissa Lehman said. “She is strong. She is physical. She is a player we ask a lot of, and she’s so humble.”

Taralyn Naslonski, A, Grad.

Naslonski, who her coaches and teammates call “TT,” is sixth in program history with 176 career points. The early days of her career were part of Rutgers’ leaner years, but in her fifth year with the team, Naslonski is ready to usher Rutgers into the national conversation. “She loves this team and this program,” Lehman said. “I was so proud of TT last year.”

KEY ADDITION

Stephanie Kelly, A, Grad.

One of the biggest impact transfers in all of Division I lacrosse, Kelly comes from Saint Joseph’s after winning the A-10’s Co-Offensive Player of the Year award. “Our team plays a certain way,” Lehman said. “We play a style of attack where we like to have a lot of people involved. Having played against Stephanie in 2020, just seeing what she did at Saint Joe’s, she’s a facilitator.”

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE

Sophia Cardello, G, So.

She stepped up as a freshman during a rigorous Big Ten-only schedule, starting eight of the final nine games. There’s room for improvement, sure. She had three games of double-digit saves — including a 15-save outing against Ohio State on April 29 — but her 35.6 save percentage leaves room for growth. Lehman is excited to see it.

ENEMY LINES

What rival coaches say about the Scarlet Knights:

“I think they’ve only just scratched the surface. They had success last year, regardless of who they played. They’ve got the confidence now, and they believe in themselves.”

BEYOND THE BASICS
POWERED BY LACROSSE REFERENCE

47.6

Rutgers staked a valid claim to the biggest transfer of the offseason when Stephanie Kelly moved over to New Brunswick from Saint Joe’s. Her 2021 EGA mark of 47.6 means that Rutgers is adding the second-most offensive production via transfer of any team, save North Carolina. — Zack Capozzi

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