There’s never been a season quite like this for the Rutgers men’s lacrosse team.
With Saturday’s 15-14 overtime win over Penn State, the No. 3 Scarlet Knights (12-2, 4-1) made program history with their 12th regular-season win. They finished the regular season undefeated at home, with their only losses coming to No. 7 Princeton and No. 1 Maryland.
That track record has put Rutgers in a prime position heading into the postseason. They currently sit at sixth in the NCAA’s RPI metric, which is a metric used by the NCAA Tournament selection committee. In the polls, the Knights jumped up a spot in the national rankings after the win over the Nittany Lions (3-10, 1-4).
The 2022 season caps off a two-year stretch for Rutgers that has seen the program sweep 4 of its 5 Big Ten opponents in both years, post an 8-5 record against ranked teams and fall just a goal shy of making the Final Four for the first time in program history.
It’s a particularly impressive stretch given where the Knights were not too long ago. When the 2020 season was cut short amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, Rutgers was just 2-4. The year before, they finished 7-8 (with a 1-8 record against ranked teams) and missed the NCAA Tournament after going out of the Big Ten Tournament semifinals with an 18-6 loss to Penn State.
How did the team do it? Let’s start with the transfers.
Despite losing their top three scorers to graduation last season, who were responsible for 58.6 percent of 2021’s goals, the Knights have largely maintained the level of offensive production that defined them in 2021 by averaging 15.43 goals per game.
This made them the sixth highest-scoring team in the nation.
That continuity is thanks to an aggressive offseason in the transfer portal. Head coach Brian Brecht and his staff brought in several transfers on the offensive side of the ball, including senior attackers Mitch Bartolo and Brian Cameron and senior midfielder Ronan Jacoby.
The aggressive strategy has paid off, as 89 of the Knights’ 216 goals this season have come from these three transfers. The two key returnees have been junior attacker Ross Scott, who leads the team in scoring with 36 goals, and sophomore attacker Shane Knobloch, who is fourth on the team with 26.
While the defense has had some portal additions as well, that unit has had remarkable continuity from last season, returning 2 of 3 of 2021’s starting defensemen and senior goalkeeper Colin Kirst.
That returning experience has allowed Rutgers to dominate the defensive end in much the same way the program does on the offensive end, allowing 10.93 goals per game. Kirst, who is in his second year as the Knights’ starting goalkeeper, is posting a career-best 10.56 goals against average.
With a 12-2 team that enters next week’s Big Ten Tournament with a first-round bye and a 2 seed, the program is in position to make its second NCAA Tournament in as many years. The team's postseason will kick off on May 5 at 8 p.m. in the conference tournament semifinals in College Park, Maryland.
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