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Return of Colin Kirst ramps up expectations for men’s lacrosse

An early look at the 2021-22 squad with the return of All-American Kirst minding net.

COLLEGE LACROSSE: MAR 28 Maryland at Rutgers Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As Aaron previously reported: Colin Kirst, Big Ten specialist of the year and an Inside Lacrosse First Team All American, received a medical redshirt allowing him to return to the banks next season. Expectations were already high for the hard charging Scarlet Knights, coming off their best season in 30 years and advancing to the second round of the NCAA tourney, ultimately coming up a hair short of Championship Weekend with a 12-11 gut-wrenching loss to UNC in overtime.

With the return of Colin Kirst, what better time to discuss expectations for 2022? Here, I take a look at the current prospects and look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Why expectations should be high for 2022

On August 26th, Rutgers announced announced that in addition to Kirst, Zackary Franckowiak, Ryan Gallagher, Jaryd Jean-Felix, Brennan Kamish, Stephen Russo, Michael Sanguinetti and Brian Ward would all be utilizing an extra year of eligibility while Tommy Coyne returns for a fifth season. It’s pretty clear this group has some unfinished business (I’m talking to you B1G Championship).

Then on September 1st, the Rutgers athletic department announced the incoming class for 2021-2022. Rutgers welcomes 6 transfers. The highly touted group includes Brad Apgar (Salisbury), Mitch Bartolo (Penn), Bryant Boswell (Bucknell), Toby Burgdorf (Providence), Ronan Jacoby (Wesleyan) and Sam Stephan (Mount St. Mary’s).

The transfers have earned Rutgers Inside Lacrosse’s #1 Offseason Transfer Rankings.

RU also welcomes 10 freshmen: Sean Brennan, Dante Kulas, Justin Lawler, Christian Maisel, Ben McKelvy, Tommy Mendyke, Logan Peters, Remington Reynolds, Luke Romanek, and Ellis Stedfast.

Let’s take a look at each key position group and why the sky’s the limit for Rutgers this spring.

The Attack

If there’s one area that is likely to take a step back, it’s the attack. How will Coach Brecht change the tires and replace 109 goals and 56 assists combined from the outgoing Charalabides, Mullins, and Connor Kirst? His plan most certainly includes explosive returning Sophomore attack-man Ross Scott, who emerged during the Knight’s tournament win over Lehigh.

Scott is joined by a very young group of underclassmen who will be looking to receive a jolt from transfers Brian Cameron of UNC (we are still awaiting official word on his transfer from the University as I write this) and Ronan Jacoby of Wesleyan, both with 2 years remaining eligibility. Freshmen Dante Kulas, from Ontario, and Logan Peters, from Wall Township, look to cash in their high school accolades for playing time on the banks this spring.

The Face Off

There’s a reason why I lead with the attack-men and the likely decline in production. Follow my optimism here. While it’s nearly impossible to replace the production of the dynamic trio of Charalambides, Mullins, and Kirst, the other side of the coin tells me the Scarlet Knights can’t possibly fare worse in face offs for 2022.

Chew on this statistic: The 2021 Scarlet Knights won 148 of 378 face-offs, less than 4 out of ten or .392 to be exact, putting an ungodly amount of pressure on their defense and goalie. We saw what happened when RU wins the face off battle - as they did against #1 UNC. It kept them fresh and in the game, with a real opportunity to pull off the upset.

For 2022, help is on the way. Incoming Mount Saint Marys transfer Sam Stephan won 550 out of 1008 during his four seasons (55%). In 2021, Stephan won 100 of 176 face offs (57%) and scooped up an average of 6 ground balls per game in the face-off scuffles for loose balls. Who wouldn’t sign up for that as a Scarlet Knight fan? Stephan gets after the ball and should push Dugenio for immediate playing time, bringing a level of competition to the position that has been non-existent the past couple of seasons.

The Midfielders

Unlike the attack-men though, this is a group that is deep, experienced, and poised to excel in 2022 with returning potential All Americans David Sprock (Jr) and Shane Knobloch (So), in addition to the return of Tommy Coyne, Ryan Gallahger, Zackary Franckowiak, Brennan Kamish, Michael Sanguinetti, and Long stick midfielder Brian Ward. They will be joined by incoming transfer Mitch Bartolo from Penn, who will have 2 years eligibility remaining after a shortened 2020 season.

In addition to the experienced group above, I expect the 2020 transfers from Syracuse, the Kim brothers Andrew and Justin, to compete for playing time and solidify what appears to be the strongest unit on the team. This group of midfielders is so essential for the quick-paced transition offense coach Brecht runs and having this amount of depth will allow RU to sub in as needed and keep everyone fresh.

Here’s a beautiful clip posted by The Lacrosse Exchange of the Scarlet Knights’s “Nascar” high speed offense in action. Watch Colin Kirst make the save at 10:51 and quickly get the pass out to his defenseman, who doesn’t hesitate and delivers a pass to Connor Kirst on the fly in transition, who then sends it home against the NIttany Lions with :02 seconds left in the quarter.

The Defense

My favorite stat from the 2021 season: The Knights scored on 15 of 28 man up situations while opponents only had success in 18 of 51 attempts. No, this D isn’t the 85 Bears but they are incredibly stout and disciplined when faced with adversity.

The return of Jaryd Jean-Felix and his signature pancake checks, along with Incoming transfers and ground ball / turnover specialists Brad Apgar from Salisbury and Bryant Boswell from Bucknell, help reinforce a talented returning group that includes rising senior Bobby Russo.

As much as we give the offense credit, the D is one of many strengths of this team and will be relied on heavily if a B1G championship and return to the tourney is in the cards.

Goalie

Need I write more here? The Colin Kirst x-factor should keep the Knights in every single game if they can improve at the face off circle. Check out the link below from Colin’s post game presser after the NCAA tourney victory over Lehigh. He has that infectious personality that helps make this lacrosse program a true family. Waiting in the wings are Sophomore Liam Gray and incoming Virginia Freshman Ellis Stedfast.

Yeah but this is Rutgers. How does this translate to wins and losses?

I’ll have a game by game breakdown of the schedule as it is solidified this fall but for now, we know who the Big Ten opponents are. It should also be a much more hotly contested league in 2022. I fully expect OSU and PSU to return to their winning, ranked ways. Hopkins will push our nemesis, the Terps of Maryland, who will once again be national championship contenders.

My bold summer prediction (I reserve the right to change this after the first bad loss in spring): Be prepared for a Big Ten preseason coaches poll that has the Knights #3 behind the Terps and Hopkins to start the season. Also be prepared for the Knights to challenge for the conference championship this season and to finally knock the Terps off their perch.