The no. 8 Rutgers men’s lacrosse team heads to Happy Valley this Saturday, April 10 at noon for a rematch against Penn State (2-5). The Scarlet Knights defeated the Nittany Lions in the season opener by the score of 11-9 in a win that set the tone for the 2021 season. RU is 5-2 this spring and a victory this weekend would clinch a top-2 seed and first round bye in the upcoming. Big Ten Tournament.
Despite two losses to no. 2 Maryland (7-0), who are undefeated and sit atop the Big Ten standings, Rutgers is having a very good season and are 5-0 against the rest of the league. They completed a season sweep of then no. 14 Ohio State last weekend, securing a hard fought 10-9 victory at SHI Stadium in Piscataway. Adam Charalambides scored two of his team high three goals in the final minutes of the contest.
“To get a Big Ten win over a ranked opponent, I’m proud of our guys,” head coach Brian Brecht said. “We want to get better each week, and part of that is what goes into winning a one-goal game, offensively, defensively and with the specialty units. I thought we did a great job getting stops, Colin Kirst was excellent in the goal, he made some great saves. Offensively, we were very timely with our goals, especially in the fourth quarter. I was happy with the play overall, it was a great team win.”
The defense shined on a day that the high powered offense was held to its second lowest scoring total of the season. Goalkeeper Colin Kirst made 15 saves in net, including 6 in the final period to secure the victory. RU held the Buckeyes to its second lowest scoring total as well. Kirst also produced a career-high with two caused turnovers and scooped up a season-high three ground balls. He was named Big Ten Co-Specialist of the Week for his performance and it was for the second time this season.
The Lehigh transfer has three games of at least 15 saves this season and is averaging 12.57 saves per game, tops in the Big Ten. He is second in the league with a 11.67 goals against average. The stability in net that he has brought to the defense this season has been a major factor in Rutgers having its best season in years.
Charalambides leads Rutgers with 24 goals and 34 points this season. Connor Kirst, who transferred from Villanova and is Colin’s brother, is second with 17 goals and has added 9 assists. Kieran Mullins is having another standout campaign with 14 goals and 15 assists. In Saturday’s victory, Mullins passed Jules Heningburg for sole possession of second place all-time in career points at Rutgers.
The veteran trio has produced a combined 55 goals out of the 101 RU has scored this season. They’ve also combined for 34 assists and 89 points.
The midfield has been led by freshman Shane Knoblock, who is third in goals with 15 and fourth in points with 18. David Sprock has 10 goals and 6 assists.
Despite PSU’s losing record of 2-5, they continue to get votes in the national polls and have won both games at home this season. They are still a dangerous team that was 21-4 with a Final Four appearance the previous two seasons. Penn State’s attack is led by Mac O’Keefe with 17 goals and TJ Malone with 15 goals and 12 assists. Goalkeeper Colby Kneese has a 12.89 goals-against-average.
A key matchup this game is with faceoffs, as Penn State has Gerard Arceri, who has won 55.1% of his faceoffs (81-of-147) this season. Rutgers must be competitive in this area if they want to complete the season sweep. In the win against the Nittany Lions earlier this season, the Scarlet Knights won 6 of 7 faceoffs in the fourth quarter after only having won just 5 of 16 entering the final frame. St. John’s transfer Jonathan Dugenio stepped up in that victory and has a .421% faceoff winning percentage this season for Rutgers.
In the first meeting between RU and PSU, Connor Kirst had a sparkling debut with 3 goals and 4 assists, while his sibling Connor Kirst made 15 saves. The Friendship Cup rivalry trophy was awarded to Rutgers after the victory and it will not be on the line this weekend after the programs agreed to only have it contested once per season. This conference only schedule this spring makes two meetings in the regular season an oddity.
The rematch is a tremendous opportunity for Rutgers to clinch second place in the Big Ten and move one step closer towards earning the program’s first NCAA Tournament bid since 2004.