Rutgers Using Brick-By-Brick Mentality to Climb the Big Ten Ladder


Jacquelyn Jester and the Rutgers defense initiated two long scoring droughts against Maryland on Sunday.

Melissa Lehman introduced a new team motto when she took over as Rutgers’ head coach in June 2019 — lay a foundation, brick by brick.

The Scarlet Knights have taken that both literally and figuratively. Next to the sticks and practice jerseys and cleats, there’s a clay brick sitting in every player’s locker this season, each marked with a word representing what the players want to bring to the team and the field.

And as each week has passed throughout this 2021 campaign, they’ve continued to pile more layers onto that foundation. Rutgers’ 16-14 win over Maryland on Sunday was its first against the Terrapins in program history, and the third Big Ten opponent this season the Scarlet Knights have taken down for the first time.

“Throughout my four years, it’s been amazing to see how far Rutgers lacrosse has come,” senior attacker Taralyn Naslonski said. “To finally see this and have three historic wins in one season is just a huge accomplishment for our program and our new coaching staff.”

Rutgers was close to its first-ever win over Maryland on April 8 in College Park. The Scarlet Knights led in shots and draw controls and even came back from a three-goal deficit to tie it up late with six minutes to play. But the Terrapins won, scoring twice in the last four minutes to claim a 14-12 win.

It was the closest Rutgers had ever come to the 15-time national champion — its tightest loss to Maryland before that was an 11-8 defeat in 1989 — and that loss in particular left the Scarlet Knights with a desire for more.

“We knew that [if we had] five more minutes left in that game, we would’ve had it,” Naslonski said. “So coming out in the next game, we had that mentality that we had to play from the first whistle, start fast, finish strong — and that’s just what we did.”

The Scarlet Knights opened their final weekend slate of the regular season with a tight 17-16 win over No. 13 Penn State on April 15, the program’s highest ranked win since a takedown of No. 8 Princeton in February 2012 and its first ever over the Nittany Lions. It came just over two months after they’d beaten Johns Hopkins for the first time on Feb. 21.

Just as it had a week earlier in College Park, Rutgers clawed its way back from a deficit. Holding a one-goal lead over Penn State with less than a minute to play, Rutgers earned a huge defensive stop to seal the comeback win. Naslonski was one of four players to tally at least four points, and it snapped the Scarlet Knights’ six-game losing streak.

Bouncing back to host the Terrapins on its home turf on Sunday, Rutgers gave one of its best first-half performances of the season, keeping Maryland to just 12 shots and four goals.

The Scarlet Knights held their own offensively, too, using a 6-0 run in the first half and a 7-0 stretch in the second to build the advantage they held for nearly all of the game.

Naslonski and junior attacker Marin Hartshorn led Rutgers with five points each in the win, while sophomore midfielder Cassidy Spilis added three goals to her squad-leading total of 33.

“This year is the most we’ve ever played with one another, and for one another,” said Naslonski, who earned Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors for her weekend showings. “Through both ends of the field, from the goalie to our attacking, through the defense and transition, that just shows all over the field.”

Rutgers has already done its share of history-making in addition to brick-laying so far in 2021 — the Scarlet Knights now own their most wins in the Big Ten ever. They’ll have a week off before looking to do more in the Big Ten tournament, in which they’ll play for the first time since 2016 starting April 29.

Whatever happens next will add yet another layer to the fast-growing foundation Rutgers has built thus far this season.

“We’re definitely going to use these two wins this past weekend to push us,” Nasolonski said. “We’re going to take this momentum, and it’s just going to drive us that much harder to make it to the Big Ten championship.”

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