UPDATE: Rutgers lost in heartbreaking fashion, 13-12. For the full game recap, click here.
After falling just short of the NCAA Tournament last season with a 10-4 record and having an RPI ranking of 12, the Rutgers men’s lacrosse team controls its own destiny as the calendar turns to April. After a third straight victory last weekend to close out non-conference play with a 15-10 victory over Delaware to avenge a loss last season, the Scarlet Knights begin Big Ten action on Easter Sunday in a primetime showdown against #6th ranked Johns Hopkins (6-2). It will be a battle of top ten teams, as Rutgers (7-2) is now ranked 9th in the latest Inside Lacrosse Media Poll.
Rutgers is 3-1 against ranked opponents this season, defeating #10 Syracuse (4-3), #14 Robert Morris (6-2), and #17 Lehigh (7-3). They lost at West Point to #20 Army (5-3). Johns Hopkins is 2-1 against current ranked foes, thrashing Syracuse 18-7 and knocking off #12 Virginia (7-3) last weekend. Their loss came at the hands of #11 Loyola MD in the second game of the season.
The Blue Jays come to Piscataway on a hot streak as well, winners of their last four contests. They are averaging over 13 scores per game and their offensive attack is led by Cole Williams (19 goals, 4 assists), Kyle Marr (18 goals, 10 assists) Shack Stanwick (13 goals, 17 assists), Connor DeSimone (11 goals), and Joel Tinney (9 goals, 18 assists). Johns Hopkins has a stingy defense as well, allowing just 9.25 goals per contest.
Rutgers brings their own balanced attack to the Big Ten opener, as they have four players with at least 16 goals this season. Jules Heningburg has had a monster senior campaign so far, as he is averaging almost a hat trick per contest and leads Rutgers with 25 goals and 21 assists. Both totals place Heningburg in the top twenty for each category in all of Division I lacrosse and he is the current points leader in the Big Ten with 46. Teammates Kieran Mullins (10 assists), Christian Mazzone (7 assists), and Casey Rose (2 assists) all have 16 goals apiece, while Tommy Coyne has been steady as well (10 goals, 8 assists). As a team, they are averaging 11.4 goals per game and allow just 9.0 goals against per contest. Goalie Max Edelmann is one of the best netminders in the country and averages over 9 saves per game. Senior captain Michael Rexrode is also a leader on the defensive side as well.
The dynamic offensive attack was clicking on all cylinders last Saturday against Delaware, the team who stunned Rutgers when they were ranked #1 in the country last season. The four leading scorers for the Scarlet Knights all registered hat tricks, with Mullins leading the way with 4 goals. After trailing the Blue Hens 9-7 in the third quarter, Rutgers closed out the game on a 8-1 run, with Heningburg producing another game winner and now his third this season.
Rutgers now has a huge opportunity in front of them, as a win on Sunday against Johns Hopkins would give them a great start in Big Ten play and solidify their top ten ranking. For this team to make the NCAA Tournament this season, they need to win games like this one. The margin for error is so slim, as last year’s disappointment of just falling short of the tournament proves.
Head coach Brian Brecht had this to say about the matchup to scarletknights.com:
“As a player, you want to test yourself against the best, and play at the highest level,” head coach Brian Brecht said. “As a coach, you want to compete for championships. All the hard work, all the practices, the recruiting, the preparations, its all to be able to have success in the big games that you get a chance to play. We have a big game on Sunday. The whole month of April is big. We have five Big Ten games coming up where we’ll control our own destiny for postseason play if we play well for those 60 minutes. We’re in a good spot right now, but we have to continue to play well.”
One thing Rutgers can look forward to in this game is the tremendous home field advantage the program has established at High Point Solutions Stadium. Our old friend Griffin Whitmer highlighted this fact during the week.
It's very possible that @RUmlax has the most underrated home field advantage in the country.— Griffin Whitmer (@GriffinWhitmer) March 29, 2018
In it's last 20 games? 19-1.
Just two weeks ago, broke program attendance record by 1,400. My story for @TargumSports https://t.co/VBxlkKgQUU
Playing a night game on Easter Sunday isn’t the most crowd friendly scheduling time, but this is a crucial game for Rutgers as conference play begins. While the Scarlet Knights are just 1-2 against Johns Hopkins in regular season play since joining the Big Ten, their lone victory came at home. They also beat the Blue Jays in the 2016 Big Ten Tournament in Baltimore, Maryland. Hopefully, the Rutgers faithful turn out in big numbers to support this program on Sunday night. If you can’t make it, the game will be shown live on BTN at 7 p.m.