It’s been 15 years since the Rutgers lacrosse team earned a bid in the NCAA Tournament.
It hasn’t been for a lack of trying, though. Since head coach Brian Brecht took over for Jim Stagnitta in 2012, the Scarlet Knights have had considerable success. In 2017, they were even able to reach a No. 1 national ranking before they lost 4 of their last 6 games and missed the Big Ten Tournament.
Rutgers struggled in the 2019 season with injuries and close losses, ultimately finishing the year with a 7-8 record and a blowout loss to Penn State in the Big Ten semifinals. It was the first losing season for the Knights since 2015, when they finished 5-10.
Getting over the hump and ending the postseason drought is not going to be an easy task. While Rutgers checks in at No. 16 in the preseason Coaches Poll, the Knights lost star goaltender Max Edelmann and key defenseman Kyle Pless to graduation. If Rutgers is going to bounce back from a disappointing 2019 season, it'll have to rely on less experienced guys to step up on the defensive side of the ball.
One of those guys is junior defenseman Garrett Bullett. In his sophomore year, Bullett collected 34 ground balls and caused 11 turnovers, becoming a rising star in the Big Ten lacrosse in the process.
The conference has taken notice of his potential, naming him as 1 of 3 Preseason All-Big Ten Players to Watch. It’s been a long climb for Bullett, who first arrived on the Banks in 2015 before taking back-to-back medical redshirts.
The other two Preseason All-Big Ten Players to Watch honorees, junior attacker Adam Charalambides and senior attacker Kieran Mullins, form a dynamic duo that leads the way for what has the potential to be one of the premier offenses in college lacrosse.
Charalambides made his long-awaited return in 2019, returning from back-to-back ACL tears. Remarkably, he didn’t miss a beat, netting 47 goals to lead the Knights in his comeback campaign.
Mullins returns as the primary facilitator, coming off a junior season that saw him finish second in the Big Ten in assists per game (2.85). He tends to spend a good chunk of offensive possessions behind the cage, looking to feed Charalambides and junior midfielder Ryan Gallagher while setting up dangerous opportunities in the process.
In the midfield, look for another young guy to really step up and come into his own: sophomore midfielder David Sprock. As a true freshman, he started 13 of 15 games for Rutgers, netting 10 goals and three assists. At the end of the season, he was also awarded the team’s Al Twitchell Award for being the most valuable freshman.
The other glaring hole for the Knights is at the faceoff spot. While sophomore faceoff Michael Ott showed some signs of promise early on, he only won 41 percent of his draws before going down with a season-ending injury.
With that being said, Rutgers might have an answer for faceoff in 2020: sophomore Moriah Yousefi. Last year at Harford Community College, the Maryland native won 72 percent of his faceoffs.
Yousefi also collected 154 ground balls and caused three turnovers, earning a spot on the NJCAA all-tournament team and the First Team All-Maryland JUCO. If he can translate those numbers to the next level, the Knights could be able to really utilize their attacking talent to its full potential.
In goal, it looks as if the replacement for Edelmann will be junior Stephen Russo. The Cleveland State transfer spent two seasons in Ohio, posting goals against an average of 10.46 over a span of 26 games and 15 starts. Again, the big question here is whether the success at his previous stop can translate to a grueling Big Ten and out-of-conference schedule.
Overall, the goal for Rutgers is simple: get back to the NCAA Tournament by any means necessary. In order for the Knights to do that, they’ll have to avoid bad losses in the non-conference slate (they nearly lost to St. John’s last year, who they face in week two) and play flawless lacrosse in order to win in a conference that boasts five teams in the top 20 for the preseason rankings.
If Rutgers can improve in the faceoff department and shore up its goaltending and defense, it looks poised to contend for a tournament spot.
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