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Rutgers poised for strong finish with Spring sports

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Four teams have a legitimate chance to make the NCAA’s in the next few weeks.

Mike Lawrence/Rutgers Athletics

It’s been a busy few months across Rutgers athletics, as fall, winter and spring sports all competed at the same time due to rescheduling with COVID-19. It’s been a very successful academic year for Rutgers athletics as women’s soccer, women’s basketball and men’s basketball made the NCAA Tournament, while wrestling, which produced three All-Americans for the first time ever, as well as gymnastics, had individual qualifiers for the NCAA Championships. Volleyball had its best season ever in Big Ten play and field hockey finished the season ranked no. 7 nationally.

I’ll have a full review of the athletic department once this academic year is complete. With the calendar now turned to May, spring sports teams remain in action. The good news is that so many different programs are poised for strong finishes over the next month plus. Here is a preview of what to watch for.

Men’s Lacrosse

With an 8-2 record and second place finish in Big Ten play, the no. 6 men’s lacrosse team is on the verge of making the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004. Despite an RPI ranking of 12 and strong resume, Rutgers is not assured a bid due to only 8 at-large spots available in the 16 team field. Lacrosse Bucket’s latest bracketology has Rutgers as one of the last teams in the NCAA Tournament. A win this Thursday in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals against Johns Hopkins (7:30 p.m. ET on BTN) would virtually guarantee the Scarlet Knights of ending the 17 year drought to the big dance. Of course, the also have a chance to win the athletic department’s first ever Big Ten title if they can upset regular season champ Maryland, who are undefeated and the likely opponent if they advance to the championship game. That would garner one of eight automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament.

While RU has fallen painfully short on the wrong side of the bubble in recent seasons, they have taken care of business so far this season by sweeping every team in the Big Ten other than Maryland. Bad losses have haunted them in the past but have been avoided so far.

The Scarlet Knights will be hard to beat if they can continue with a balanced offensive attack and strong defensive play, which garnered six All-Big Ten selections in addition to Brian Brecht earning Coach of the Year honors, Connor Kirst being named Specialist of the Year and Shane Knobloch winning Freshman of the Year. If they can get into the NCAA Tournament, Rutgers has a chance to advance and make a run if they can overcome the one area they’ve struggled in this season, face-offs. It’s the most talented team Rutgers has had in years and it’s important that the program adds a strong finish to what they’ve already accomplished so far this season.

Women’s Lacrosse

While there were serious expectations for the men’s lacrosse team in 2021, the opposite was true for the women’s program. Second year head coach Melissa Lehman has led her team six conference wins with five against ranked opponents. While they are playing a Big Ten only schedule, it is the first time Rutgers has won more than two conference games since joining the league. Sophomores Cassidy Spilis and Meagan Ball earned First Team All-Big Ten honors and led RU to the Big Ten semifinals last week before falling to undefeated conference champion Northwestern. The No. 16 Scarlet Knights await Sunday’s NCAA Tournament Selection Show (9 p.m. ET on ESPNU) and appear to be in a solid position to earn the program’s first bid since 1999 and just second all-time.

Baseball

Steve Owens came to Rutgers without ever having a losing season as a head coach and in his first year managing within the Big Ten, he has the Scarlet Knights in position to finish above .500 for the first time since joining the league. They are on a five game winning streak with each victory coming against ranked teams on the road. Taking two of three against Michigan and then sweeping then first place Nebraska has put RU in contention to make the NCAA Regionals for the first time since 2007. Behind strong pitching and timely hitting, Rutgers is 17-13 with a huge weekend ahead against the top two teams in the Big Ten. They’ll host Indiana on Friday and Saturday, followed by a rematch with Nebraska at Bainton Field on Sunday and Monday. If they can at least split the weekend, they’ll be in great shape to finish in the top half of the league standings.

The program just announced on Tuesday that fans can attend this weekend’s games at Bainton Field. For more information, click here.

Rowing

If you are looking for a program most likely to win the first Big Ten title for Rutgers Athletics, look no further then the women’s rowing team. As many great hires that athletic director Pat Hobbs has made over the years, landing Justin Price could be arguably his best one. After a then program best 7th place finish at the Big Ten Championships in Price’s first year in 2018, the signs were there for better days ahead. He then led the program to its first NCAA Championships appearance in 18 years, finishing in 11th place in 2019. With last season cancelled due to COVID-19, Rutgers is currently ranked no. 4 in the latest Coaches Poll this spring. They just had a clean sweep against no. 9 Syracuse and Princeton last weekend. The Big Ten Championships will take place on May 16 in Indianapolis and the Scarlet Knights have a legitimate chance to win the title before heading to the NCAA Championships. It could be a huge month for the program.

Track & Field

Under Bobby Farrell, who Hobbs promoted to run both men’s and women’s track and field and cross country in 2019, this program continues to improve and they’ve had a solid outdoor season this spring. Rutgers won six different events at the Jesse Owens Invitational this past weekend and had competitors set 14 different personal records. The Big Ten Championships are up next and Rutgers has plenty of athletes who could finish on the podium.

There are multiple school record holders on the women’s side headed to Champaign, Illinois including Ka’Leila Abrille in the pole vault, Courteney Campbell in the high jump, Jasmine Van Note in the shotput, Lou Mialhe in the 3,000 steeplechase. In addition, Reanda Richards is the defending Big Ten champion in the 400m hurdles from 2019, when she also finished 4th in at the NCAA Outdoor Championships.

On the men’s side, the 4x100m team of A’nan Bridgett, Taj Burgess, Nadale Buntin and Louis Akpadago set a school record of 39.80 two weeks ago on the same track in Illinois. In addition, Perry Christie is the program’s record holder in the high jump, is a two-time NCAA Outdoor qualifier and won the Big Ten Indoor Title earlier this year.

The Big Ten Outdoor Championships take place from May 14-16 and we will have full coverage.

Men’s Golf

Lastly, Chris Gotterup finished 6th at last weekend’s Big Ten Championships after delivering a low round of four-under-par 68 for the entire tournament on Sunday. The Rutgers team finished 8th overall and is done for the season. Gotterup is the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year and ranked No. 31 in the latest PGA Tour University Rankings. Gotterup was selected on Wednesday for NCAA Regional play, becoming the first Rutgers golfer to qualify since 2005.