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Rutgers men's lacrosse advances in NCAA Tournament with win against Lehigh

Graduate student attacker Connor Kirst scored 3 goals as the Rutgers men's lacrosse team defeated Lehigh for the program's first NCAA Tournament win in 31 years. – Photo by Scarletknights.com

It was a historic day in Charlottesville, Virginia as the Rutgers men’s lacrosse team earned its first NCAA Tournament win since 1990, taking down Lehigh 12-5 yesterday afternoon.

The game started off relatively quietly offensively, with the score tied 2-2 at the end of the first quarter. The Scarlet Knights (9-3, 8-2) went on a run in the second quarter, scoring the next 3 goals unanswered to take a 5-2 lead into the second half.

“The second quarter was very good for us to continue understanding that we could get stops on the defensive end even after losing faceoffs and clear the ball,” said head men’s lacrosse coach Brian Brecht. “We were running in transition, so we were getting goals off transition and they were playing the zone and it was a matter of time, we were (going to) have our possessions and we were going to have our opportunities.”

While Rutgers won just 5 of 21 draws from the faceoff spot in this game, two of those wins turned into goals for the Knights.

Early in the fourth quarter, sophomore faceoff specialist Jonathan Dugenio won a faceoff from Mike Sisselberger, charged into the attacking zone and dumped it off to graduate student attacker Connor Kirst for a goal. They then did the exact same thing 7 seconds later. That made it a 10-4 game, earning Rutgers its largest lead of the game at the time.

Offensively, 9 of the Knights’ 12 goals came from the attacking trio of fifth-year senior Kieran Mullins, Kirst and graduate student Adam Charalambides, each of whom finished with 3 goals in the win. Brecht emphasized the importance of senior leadership in his postgame press conference.

“This senior class has been outstanding. All year long, they made a commitment to come back to campus and train and (deal with coronavirus disease) COVID-19 guidelines,” Brecht said. “They sacrificed, and they’re dedicated, they’ve been great leaders … give our senior class a pat on the back.”

On the defensive end, graduate student goalkeeper Colin Kirst finished the game with 17 saves and a save percentage of .773 — his best save percentage of the season.

As if winning an NCAA Tournament game wasn’t enough, there was a personal angle to this for Colin Kirst. After spending most of his college career backing up the Mountain Hawks' (10-2, 8-0) starter James Spence, Colin Kirst finally got the opportunity to prove himself against his former team.

“It’s pretty surreal. Since (Sunday), the first 10 seconds of being excited to be in (the tournament), and then seeing their name next to ours, I just couldn’t stop smiling for the whole week,” Colin Kirst said.

With a 31-year drought now in the rearview mirror, Rutgers looks forward to a date with North Carolina, the top seed in the tournament. The Tar Heels (12-2, 4-2) handily won their first round matchup against Monmouth 16-4. A win in that game this Saturday would earn the Knights their first final four appearance in program history.

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