The 2020-2021 school year is now over and it was a major step forward for Rutgers Athletics overall. While a .424 winning percentage across all sports, despite being the best since joining the league, along without any Big Ten titles, is not where athletic director Pat Hobbs wants things to be at long term, it’s clear that more success is coming in the near future.
Four teams won NCAA Tournament games and many other programs achieved its best ever campaigns in Big Ten competition. The new group of head coaches that Hobbs hired are making clear progress, while the top coaches who were on campus before his hire are benefiting from strategic plans and support overall. With new facilities for the majority of athletics programs and the Big Ten revenue share increasing significantly, the future remains bright for Rutgers athletics.
This past year showed what is possible and what is on the horizon. Here are the best moments on the field or on the court for Rutgers athletics in 2020-2021.
Rutgers had a surprising 3-6 record last season including wins at Purdue and at Maryland. However, it was the victory at Michigan State to open the fall season and kick off the Schiano 2.0 era in style that was the biggest moment. It sent a clear message that the program was already on its way to restoring respectability that was lost after Schiano left in 2012. It set the tone for the season and Rutgers played with a renewed fire the entire way. It was also a huge boost to the fan base that had suffered on the field in recent years and in life in the midst of a pandemic.
The Scarlet Knights continued to make progress in head coach Jim McElderry’s second season and the high point was defeating Maryland 2-0. The win marked the Scarlet Knights’ best start in Big Ten play at 3-1 and put them in second place at the time. Despite the Terps having a down year for them, eventually being eliminated in the first round of the NCAA Tournament three years removed from a national title, Rutgers beating them made a big statement for the program. They went on to lose to Maryland in the penalty shootout in the Big Ten Tournament, which showed how quickly this program is improving.
While no Rutgers team has won a Big Ten title yet, Perry Christie was able to deliver a conference championship in the high jump at the Indoor Championships this past winter. He and Taj Burgess went on to earneAll-America status at the NCAA Indoor Championships. Burgess and A’nan Bridgett are set to compete at the NCAA Outdoor Championships this week after Rutgers had 12 athletes compete at the NCAA Regionals in May.
The Scarlet Knights defeated no. 22/20 Ohio State 71-63 in the regular season finale that ultimately was the high point of the campaign. Rutgers finished in third place in the Big Ten for the second time in three years. It also marked the final home game of Arella Guirantes’ tremendous career, finishing with 20 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks and a steal. Tyia Singleton also delivered a memorable performance with 18 points, 13 rebounds and 6 blocks. It was a tough postseason for C. Vivian Stringer’s team, but they remain one of the most consistent programs at Rutgers.
Head coach Steve Owens led Rutgers to its best ever finish in Big Ten play with a 21-23 record and eighth place in the final standings. The highlight of his first full campaign on the banks came in a three game weekend sweep against the league leading Cornhuskers. It marked five straight wins and two consecutive series victories against ranked foes on the road. Nebraska just beat No. 1 Arkansas in the NCAA Tournament, so what Rutgers accomplished against them in Lincoln should spark real hope for the future.
The Scarlet Knights beat the Terps twice, including the regular season finale to finish with the most victories since joining the Big Ten.
While the Scarlet Knights were favored to win this game, in doing so they notched the program’s fifth win in the first round of the NCAA’s over the past seven seasons. The first three-time All-American in program history, Amirah Ali, limped off the bench late in the game to deliver the 14th game winning game of her storied career. The victory reaffirmed women’s soccer as the most successfully consistent program at Rutgers and they have now made the NCAA Tournament in straight seasons.
The Scarlet Knights made program history with a fifth place finish overall at the Big Ten Championships and shocking the conference by winning Session I. They delivered a program record score after continuing to improve as a team the entire season. Hannah Joyner and Belle Huang led the way and both qualified for NCAA Regionals. Joyner ultimately became just the third Rutgers gymnast ever to qualify for the NCAA Championships.
It was a disjointed dual meet season and despite a pause late in the schedule due to Covid-19, Rutgers shined at nationals with Sebastian Rivera, John Poznanski and Jackson Turley all finishing on the podium to earn All-American status. After Anthony Ashnault and Nick Suriano won national titles in 2019, following that up with another program first of producing three All-Americans was a clear sign that head coach Scott Goodale will only continue to take Rutgers to new heights in the future.
The senior had a great career on the banks and finished with a solid performance at last month’s NCAA Regional. He shot an even par over three rounds to finish in a tie for 20th. This came after he finished tied for 6th at the Big Ten Championships. The program has a lot of young talent under head coach Rob Shutte, but Gotterup, a one-time Big Ten Golfer of the Year, helped Rutgers gain footing on the national scene in his last run.
The junior reached the finals of the 1-meter and platform at the NCAA Zone A Diving Championships. She did so for the second consecutive year and fell just short of qualifying for the NCAA Championships in the 1-meter. This is a program that doesn’t get much attention but has consistently had divers qualify for the NCAA Championships under longtime coach Frederick Woodruff, who announced his retirement after the season.
The Scarlet Knights earned the highest ranked win in program history with a 2-1 victory on Friday, April 9 and then followed it up with a 3-2 overtime thriller against the Wildcats on Sunday, April 11. It marked four consecutive wins over top ten teams after a previous sweep of Penn State. Co-Big Ten Coach of the Year Meredith Civico’s team finished ranked 7th in the nation and discussed the historic season on our podcast here.
After entering the season with a 3-117 record in Big Ten play since joining the conference, first year head coach Caitlin Schweihofer led the Scarlet Knights to a 6-14 campaign. They finished with four consecutive victories in back to back series wins over Maryland and Michigan State. It resulted in a ninth place finish, the program’s best ever in the Big Ten in a season the top six teams in the league were ranked 11th or better nationally heading into the NCAA Tournament. You can listen to Schweihofer discuss her breakthrough season on our podcast here.
Rutgers had a tremendous performance last month headlined by its Varsity 8 boat race coming in fifth place in the Grand Final. The Varsity 4 boat won the Petite Final for a seventh place finish, while the Second Varsity 8 boat finished tenth overall. It’s amazing to consider that the Scarlet Knights never even finished close to seventh overall at the Big Ten Championships before Justin Price took over in 2017. Just four years later, a third place finish in the loaded Big Ten was followed by finishing seventh at nationals. Remarkable progress and there should be hope this level of success is sustainable under Price’s leadership.
Another long streak was broken this spring as men’s lacrosse earned an NCAA tourney bid for the first time in 17 years before winning its first game in 31 years. They dominated No. 8 seed Lehigh in a 12-5 victory. The dynamic trio of Adam Charalambides, Connor Kirst and Kieran Mullins each delivered a hat trick while goalkeeper Colin Kirst was magnificent making 17 saves. He became the first Rutgers netminder to win an NCAA Tournament game since his late father Kyle did the same in 1990. We spoke with Colin, the Big Ten Specialist of the Year, and Big Ten Coach of the Year, Brian Brecht, about that moment and more here.
Trailing 7-6 at the half, the Scarlet Knights dominated after the break to secure a 16-13 victory over Drexel. Making just the second appearance ever at the NCAA’s and first in 22 years, Rutgers was led by a pair of team captains in TT Naslonski (4 goals, 3 assists) and Hannah Hollingsworth (4 goals, 1 assist). With sophomore stars Cassidy Spilis and Meagan Ball, this program is well positioned for future success under head coach Melissa Lehman.
While Selection Sunday was a huge moment in its own right, allowing Rutgers fans to celebrate a trip to March Madness for the first time in 30 years, doing the same after the program’s first NCAA Tournament win in 38 years a few nights later was even sweeter. Caleb McConnell delivered a clutch performance off the bench while Ron Harper Jr. and Geo Baker came up big in the final minute to secure the historic win. Head coach Steve Pikiell followed up a 20 win regular season that would have ended the NCAA Tournament drought if not for the global pandemic by killing two birds with one stone. Doubting that he will make even more history in the future for this program would be a mistake.
This is the first of a multi-part series recapping the past year for Rutgers Athletics.