No. 16 Rutgers women’s lacrosse (6-8) will face No. 10 Drexel (13-2) in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday at 4 p.m. ET in Stony Brook, New York. The match will stream live on ESPN+ and will be broadcast live on WRSU 88.7 FM. The winner will play the winner of Towson and No. 8 Stony Brook in the Second Round on Sunday, May 16 at noon ET.
It is the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1999 and second all-time. The Scarlet Knights are looking for its first win in program history at the NCAA’s after losing 14-3 to James Madison in 1999.
Under second year head coach Melissa Lehman, Rutgers won six Big Ten games and five against ranked foes. Both are program records. They defeated Johns Hopkins, Penn State and Maryland for the first time ever and advanced to the Big Ten Tournament semifinals after defeating Ohio State for a third time this season. No. 2 Northwestern won 24-14 after a strong finish after the Scarlet Knights lead in the first half and tied the score early in the second half.
Rutgers had four players earn all-conference honors this season, including sophomores Cassidy Spilis and Meghan Ball as First Team All-Big Ten selections. Both players were named Midseason All-Americans by Inside Lacrosse and included on the Tewaaraton Award Watch List. Spilis is 37th nationally with a 3.29 goals per game average, while Ball is 30th nationally with 1.79 caused turnovers per game. Seniors TT Naslonski and Dana Pena earned Second Team All-Big honors. Naslonski is currently seventh all-time with 165 career points which included 115 goals and 50 assists. She is second in goals and points on the team behind Spilis this season.
In addition, junior Marin Hartshorn was named to the All-Big Ten Tournament Team along with Spilis. She is currently ninth in program history with 93 draws for her career.
Drexel is coming off a double-overtime loss to James Madison in the CAA Championship game. They are sixth in the nation in scoring offense as they average 16.53 goals per game. Jill Batcheller won the program’s first ever CAA Coach of the Year award. Senior midfielder Karson Harris for CAA Player of the Year after leading the league in goals per game (4.23), ground balls per game (2.54) and draw controls per game (5.54). She is nominated for the Tewaaraton Award and broke the program scoring record for a single season with 55 goals. In addition, Senior Zoe Bennett was named CAA Goaltender of the Year behind a .480 save percentage, which is 17th best nationally, as well as 120 total saves.
The Scarlet Knights would benefit from a fast start to the game, as falling behind early could prove a difficult challenge to overcome against such a high scoring opponent. Both teams are proficient with draw controls, as Drexel is 14th nationally with 15.2 per game and Rutgers is 21st nationally with 14.8 per game. Winning draw controls will be key for Rutgers as they attempt to slow down the Drexel offense, who are 11th nationally with 25.6 shots on goal per contest. Meghan Ball and Dana Pena anchor the defense, but they’ll also need a strong performance from freshman goalkeeper Sophia Cardello. The rookie started the previous four games that resulted in three straight victories before falling to Big Ten champion Northwestern.
On offense, RU will need a balanced attack with Cassidy Spilis, TT Naslonski and Marin Hartshorn needing to have productive games. Other key players for Rutgers include seniors Hannah Hollingsworth and Julia Lytle, as well as a pair of sophomores in Jenna Byrne and Ashley Campo. Freshman Ashley Moynahan had a career high four points in the Big Ten Tournament win over OSU.
In the biggest game for Rutgers in over two decades, the Scarlet Knights will need to maintain its composure and urgency the entire way against the Dragons to advance in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history.
Earlier this week, I spoke with head coach Melissa Lehman and TT Naslonski about the historic season so far and Friday’s first round matchup against Drexel in our latest podcast episode here.