Coming off one of their most successful seasons in program history, the Rutgers Men’s Lacrosse team appears primed to finally break through and reach the NCAA tournament. Today, were going in depth on the 2018 Scarlet Knights.
Pre-Season Hype: Coming into the season the Scarlet Knights are ranked #7 in the pre-season polls. Michael Rexrode, coming off a third team All-American season, was named a pre season first team All-American. Christian Trasolini and Adam Charalambides were slated to return from injury further adding to the high expectations for the season. (Charalambides was announced out for the 2018 season on January 23rd, but we will get into that more later.). Rutgers also made waves when they announced the addition of two mid-year enrollees, Tommy Coyne and Joe Peterson. Both players graduated high school early in order to join the program ahead of schedule. This practice is very common in football, but it is the first time I can remember seeing something like this happen.
Schedule: Two years ago, Rutgers was knocked (deservingly so) for having a weak non-conference schedule that helped keep them out of the NCAA tournament, fast forward to 2018 and the schedule has beefed up. The biggest addition to the schedule was traditional juggernaut Syracuse. The Orange head to town March 18 in what will be a huge measuring stick for the Scarlet Knights. Lehigh was also added to the schedule and with teams that remain on the schedule like Princeton, Army and Delaware getting better and better, the Scarlet Knights schedule is far from a cake walk. In addition to a tough non-conference slate, the Big Ten is arguably the toughest conference in the country. The conference includes both returning NCAA finalists in Maryland and Ohio State and top 20 teams in Penn State and Johns Hopkins. After missing out on the Big Ten tournament last season, it is paramount that the Scarlet Knights qualify this season.
Roster and Key Player Breakdown: As stated above, Christian Trasolini and Adam Charalambides were slated to return from season ending injuries coming into the season and be major contributors, but a second ACL injury ended Charalambides season early again. While his loss is going to be massive, I truly don’t think his injury is a season-ruiner for the Scarlet Knights. Lacrosse is a sport much like basketball where there are distributors and shooters and Charalambides is definitely a shooter, easily the best finisher on the team. The problem that Rutgers ran into last season though, is they were a team with too many shooters and not enough distributors. Jules Heningburg, I can’t believe I made it this far without mentioning Rutgers best offensive player, was forced to do much of the ball handling and distributing last season, and there was times where the offense became stagnant because of it. Heningburg will again be flanked by Kieran Mullins, a shooter in the same mold as Charalambides, and hopefully another attackman with the ability to carry and distribute. Two years ago, when the Rutgers offense really burst onto the scene, the attack group had two distributors in Scott Bieda and Heningburg and one shooter in Charalambides. Look for them to go back to a similar look, perhaps with freshman Mikey Sanguinetti (shoutout Robbinsville) or one of the mid-year enrollees to step into the starting spot vacated by Charalambides.
At midfield, the Scarlet Knights will be bolstered by the return of Trasolini. He will be joined in the midfield by key returners Chad Toliver, Christian Scarpello, Casey Rose, and Christian Mazzone. The midfield was much improved in 2017 and if they can continue to grow and develop, the Scarlet Knights will have one of, if not the most formidable offense in all of the country.
Two years ago, Rutgers really struggled at the face-off X, but a breakout season from Joe Francisco turned a weakness into a strength. Francisco is back, and so is Alex Schoen, who missed all of last season with an injury. Kyle Pless returns as a groundball machine on the wings, and promising freshman Garrett Bullett returns from injury to add even more depth to the face-off crew.
The Scarlet Knight defense remains almost totally in tact from last season, and some could argue that despite all the talent the offense has, the defense will be the strength of the Scarlet Knights this season. As stated above, Michael Rexrode is an absolute monster who should be a first-team All American at the end of the season. Alex Bronzo is a returning starter who showed a lot of promise as a take-away defender last season. Last seasons third starter Chris Groel graduated, but there are a lot of talented defenders waiting in the wings for their chance to step up and complete a very strong back three.
Michael Rexrode returns to RU as a senior captain off an All-American 2017 campaign. And @Inside_Lacrosse pegs him as a Preseason First Team All-American for the upcoming season: https://t.co/AaIsSlq0Gq #RUMLax pic.twitter.com/KLnpwMbaMV— Rutgers Men's LAX (@RUmlax) January 5, 2018
A defensive group is not complete without its goaltender and the Scarlet Knights are blessed with arguably the best one in the Big Ten in Max Edelmann. Edelmann won the starting spot two years ago, but was injured early in the season and missed the entire 2016 season. He was a man possessed last year earning second-team All Big Ten, and finished with a 53% save percentage, which is very good considering the amount of shots he sees playing in Rutgers run and gun system.
3 #RUMLax players named @B1GLacrosse Preseason Honorees today: Michael Rexrode, Jules Heningburg and Max Edelmann! RU picked 3rd in preseason coaches poll. Release: https://t.co/2UowuAyJp8 #B1GLax pic.twitter.com/4dnxbdUMMC— Rutgers Men's LAX (@RUmlax) January 29, 2018
Questions that will need to be answered:
- Third starter at attack and close defense?
- Can the midfield continue their improvement from last season?
- Will we see the Jules Heningburg of 2016 or 2017? (Hint, we want the 2016 version)
- Who is the player with the least amount of pre-season hype who is going to make the most noise in 2018? (Think Kieran Mullins last year)
- Is this the year the Scarlet Knights finally make the NCAA tournament?
Look, the loss of Charalambides is huge, but remember, this group was ranked number one last year at one point without him. His injury is not a season defining one, and I'm sure him and Coach Brecht will be the first ones to say it. This team is loaded at every spot on the field and they will have a chance to win every single game this year. If the offense is able to continue to grow and mature as a unit and not become dependent on one player, there is no defense in the country that can stop them. I think Max Edelmann will be an All-American this year, and don’t be surprised if its first team.
I think Rutgers goes 12-2 this year with losses to Maryland and Ohio State. They will make the Big Ten tournament and I think they get revenge and win the whole darn thing, locking up a birth to the NCAA tournament. I’m also going to shoot my shot here and GUARANTEE a spot in Foxboro for the Final Four. Rutgers? The house that Bill Belichick built? It makes too much sense. See you all in Boston!