The Rutgers men's lacrosse team opened its 2024 season with a 14-12 victory over Lehigh on Saturday. The Scarlet Knights (1-0, 0-0) overcame a poor first quarter to win their 12th-straight season opener in front of an energetic crowd at SHI Stadium on Busch campus.
Here are three takeaways from the victory.
First quarter struggles
The Knights responded with goals from junior attacker Dante Kulas and senior midfielder Jack Aimone but could not take the lead. The Mountain Hawks (0-1, 0-0) then scored 3 straight goals to take a 5-2 lead after the first quarter.
After the first 15 minutes of play, Rutgers looked a bit dysfunctional on defense.
The Knights' backline consisted of junior defenders Ben McKelvy and Tommy Mendyke and sophomore defender and long-stick midfielder Conor Udovich, who were all making their first collegiate start. Sophomore goalkeeper Cardin Stoller also made his first collegiate start between the pipes but struggled in the opening quarter, conceding 5 goals and only recording one save.
Second quarter resurgence
Rutgers found its footing in the second quarter.
Rutgers was able to keep Lehigh quiet for approximately 13 minutes with solid defense, but a tally from Scott Cole made the game level once again.
Both teams traded goals to end the second quarter and make the score 7-7 heading into halftime.
The Knights were not able to pull away with a comfortable lead but managed to tie the game after being 3 goals down and recover from their shaky start.
Second half resilience
The second half ultimately decided the winner of the back-and-forth affair.
Aimone kicked off the third quarter with his 2nd goal of the contest.
The Mountain Hawks found the back of the cage thanks to Quinn Armstrong, but Rutgers once again took a 3-goal lead with 2:39 left to play in the third quarter.
Lehigh continued to chip away at the Knights' lead and eventually cut the deficit to 1 goal in the fourth quarter.
Rutgers played at a much slower pace to maintain its lead, and a goal from Knobloch in the last minute sealed the come-from-behind win.
Head coach Brian Brecht was pleased with the determination his team showed after trailing early on.
"I give our guys a lot of credit," Brecht said. "They were able to chip away, come back, build a lead, hold the lead and then ice it at the end."
Knobloch and Aimone led the Knights with hat tricks. On defense, Stoller had 10 saves, and Udovich scooped up two ground balls.
After the game, Aimone spoke about the importance of the team's first win of the 2024 season.
"Our goal is to go 1-0 every week, and we've done that week one," he said. "Just to start off the season on a high note is huge going into the rest of the season."
Rutgers will look to continue its strong start to the season when it goes up against Stony Brook on Saturday. The game will begin at noon and will be broadcast on FloSports.
"I thought we had a lot of learning experiences today, and I'm happy that we got the win to be able to learn from those experiences for the first time," Brecht said.
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