The Rutgers men’s lacrosse team is set to begin its 2021 season and its 10th season under head men's lacrosse coach Brian Brecht. Since taking over in the summer of 2011, the Scarlet Knights have had plenty of talent: Of his players, 21 have gone on to play professional lacrosse, and 12 of them have been named All-Americans. But there’s one item still on his to-do list: earning the program’s first NCAA Tournament bid since 2004.
On the offensive side of the ball this season, the team boasts a combination of talent and continuity — the Knights return all three of their starting attackers. In particular, fans can look forward to fifth-year senior attacker Kieran Mullins and graduate student attacker Adam Charalambides, who both averaged more than 3 points per game in a pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
Rutgers also acquired several key transfers that could take this year’s team to the next level. One transfer is graduate student midfielder Connor Kirst, who joins the Knights after playing four years at Villanova, earning First Team All-American and 2019 Big East Midfielder of the Year.
He’s also got a family history with the program — his father Kyle Kirst was a Rutgers goalie from 1988 to 1990 and was inducted into the New Jersey Lacrosse Hall of Fame.
Joining him is his brother, graduate student goalie Colin Kirst. While at Lehigh, Colin Kirst made 11 appearances and posted a 10.71 goals-against average. He’ll look to compete for a starting spot in a goalie room that includes a starter last year, senior goalkeeper Stephen Russo.
The Knights struggled at the faceoff spot in 2020, winning approximately 33 percent of their draws. Two key additions look to change that equation in 2021: face-off specialists sophomore Jonathan Dugenio and freshman Connor Baratta.
Dugenio transfers in from St. John’s, where he won 55.1 percent of faceoffs and earned College Crosse Third Team All-American honors. Baratta is less experienced but in 2019 won 80 percent of his faceoffs.
On the defensive side of the ball, Rutgers was able to dominate in several key areas. The team finished 2020 clearing 85.8 percent of the time and only allowing shorthanded goals on just 15.8 percent of opportunities. As is the case with the attack and midfield, the Knights bring most of their key contributors back — a continuity that could be useful in the most unusual offseason in the history of college lacrosse.
The big question this team will have to answer is if their talent and experience will finally be enough to earn them their first NCAA bid in 17 years.
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