Unlike college football, with warm late-summer days and pleasant nights, the start of the college lacrosse season begins just as Old Man Winter ratchets the weather up a notch. February days are short, cold and frequently snowy. Shi Stadium will be very cold and sunny on Saturday, dotted with mounds of snow in the backdrop, as Rutgers battles regional rival LIU in the home opener.
The Rutgers men’s lacrosse team looks to build off their best season in three decades. After notching their first NCAA tournament win since 1990, Rutgers now sets their sites on that elusive Big Ten championship and a second consecutive NCAA bid. You can check my schedule preview back in December here and Aaron’s preseason podcastinterview with head coach Brian Brecht here. Below is my preview of the 2022 season ahead.
Junior Jonathan Dugenio returns for his second year in the program. The former St. Johns transfer was the team’s primary face-off man in 2021, taking 71% of them and winning 106-of-268 at a 39.5% clip. Dugenio will be competing for playing time with incoming transfer Sam Stephan. Stephan spent four seasons as face-off man at Mount St. Mary’s, going 550-of-1008 (54.5 percent) on faceoffs, while collecting 347 ground balls and was named Academic All-American by USILA.
Providing depth are seniors Michael Ott and Moriah Yousefi, both whom saw spot playing time last season as coach Brecht tried to kick-start the unit when Dugenio was struggling.
An interesting note about incoming freshman Luke Romanek from New Hampton School in New Hampshire is that he won a staggering 96% of face-offs in 2021. That’s not a misprint.
It’s no surprise that for Rutgers to have a shot at the Big Ten championship, this unit needs to win face-offs at a high clip and take the pressure off the defense. Coach Brecht noted in his interview with Aaron that you have to be above the Mason-Dixon line and win over 50% of face-offs to be successful. Dugenio looks to continue his improvement from late last season while transfer Stephan provides the competition needed to hopefully make this unit a strength.
So Who’s gone?
The attack unit takes the most significant hit and is the biggest unknown heading into the 2022 season. Starters Adam Charalambides, Kiernan Mullins, and Connor Kirst generated 109 goals and 56 assists last season. It’s unrealistic to expect Rutgers to replace that level of production but with the infusion of transfers and a budding star in Ross Scott, the unit has the potential for a big season.
Junior Ross Scott from West Linn, Oregon makes the full time switch over to attack this season after playing a midfield / attack combo in 2021. Scott played in all 13 games, scoring nine goals with five assists and scooping up four ground balls.
Senior Eric Civetti also played in all 13 games in 2021. The Franklin, MA native was a key contributor on the extra-man unit that ranked third in the nation. Civetti scored four goals with two coming on extra-man situations.
Key new faces?
Knowing Rutgers had to replace the output of Charalambides, Mullins, and Kirst, coach Brecht hit the transfer portal hard in the offseason, landing Rutgers the #1 overall ranking by Inside Lacrosse. This impressive list of transfers includes:
Senior Mitch Bartolo, Penn: The Norwalk, CT native played in 27 career games (19 starts), where he scored 20 goals and added nine assists, had 14 ground balls and three caused turnovers. He will have 2 years of eligibility remaining due to Penn’s shortened 2020 and 2021 seasons.
Senior Brian Cameron, UNC: The Bedford, NH native had 16 goals, 1 assist, 18 ground balls and 2 turnovers caused in his junior season in Chapel Hill.
Senior Ronan Jacoby, who was drafted by the NLL’s Panther City franchise (Sixth Round, 77th overall), is a big-time scorer. He played in 48 games for Division III Wesleyan, scoring 150 goals and adding 28 assists while also collecting 75 ground balls and causing 12 turnovers.
It will be interesting to see how much production this group can generate, particularly as the season progresses and they begin to gel as the team heads into conference play.
Long sticker Ethan Rall. The senior from Islip, Long Island was recently named a Third Team Preseason All-American by Inside Lacrosse magazine. Ethan had a career-high 26 ground balls, 14 caused turnovers, one goal and one assist. Rall led the team in caused turnovers and was third in ground balls.
Senior Brennan Kammish was recently tabbed an Honorable Mention Preseason All-American by Inside Lacrosse magazine. Hailing from Wixom, Michigan, Kammish played in all 13 games with six goals, three assists, 17 ground balls and seven caused turnovers.
It was announced this week that Senior David Sprock will miss the season due to an injury sustained during the preseason. He was also named an Honorable Mention Preseason All-American by Inside Lacrosse magazine. The Dallas, Texas native started every game last season, finishing fourth on the team with 17 goals and 10 assists. He also scooped up six ground balls and caused two turnovers. His absence will be hard to replace for Rutgers but there is depth on the roster.
Sophomore Shane Knobloch started in 11 of 13 games and posted 16 goals and five assistss, finishing 5th on the team in goals and points. Knobloch scooped up 12 ground balls and had one caused turnover.
This group should not miss a beat from last season. They have significant depth and experience with seniors Tommy Coyne, Cole Daninger, Zakary Franckowiak, Ryan Gallahger, The Kim brothers Andrew and Justin, Michael Sanguinetti and Brian Ward all returning.
Drum roll please.... At Goalie, #23, Colin Kirst. The high expectations all start with the Bernardsville, NJ senior. Kirst was recently named Third Team Preseason All-American by Inside Lacrosse. The Big Ten 2021 specialist of the year returns to the banks after being granted a medical hardship waiver, allowing him to play one final season at RU. In 24 career games, he holds a 10.75 goals-against-average and .547 save percentage, making 202 saves and collecting 39 ground balls and six caused turnovers. It goes without saying that when Kirst keeps opponents under 10 goals, Rutgers has a very good chance of winning games.
Incoming transfer Toby Burgdorf played 21 career games at Providence in goal (18 as the starting goalkeeper) and compiled a 10.81 goals-against-average and .544 save percentage on 246 saves, ranking 16th in the nation in saves per game in 2021. Burgdorf was named a 2021 Scholar All-American and brings experience and much-needed depth to the position. Coach Brecht has noted that Burgdorf has been great in goalie during the pre-season and should hopefully be able to spell Kirst as needed.
Cummings, GA senior Jaryd Jean-Felix, he of the pancake-check, will once again be one of the key enforcers on the defensive unit. Jean-Felix started in all 13 games and was one of three defensemen in the conference named All-Big Ten. Jaryd set career-highs with 20 ground balls and 12 caused turnovers (second on the team).
Joining Jean-Felix on the backline is senior Bobby Russo from Bridgewater, NJ. The 2021 Big Ten Distinguished Scholar started all 13 games and posted career-bests with 28 ground balls, 11 caused turnovers, a goal and an assist.
Key New Faces
Senior transfer Brad Apgar from Millford, NJ may be the biggest get in the portal for coach Brecht. Drafted by the NLL’s Georgia Swarm (Sixth Round, 85th overall), the three-time All American played four seasons at Division III Salisbury, starting 49 games, compiling 115 ground balls, 70 caused turnovers and one goal.
Joining Apgar is equally experienced four-year starter Bryant Boswell. The Frederick, MD native played four seasons at Bucknell, starting 31 games, scooping 103 ground balls and compiling 45 caused turnovers. Boswell was Second Team All-Patriot League in 2021.
Seniors Jack Stahanczyk, Jonathan Taub, junior Jack Norgard, sophomore Kyle Tietgen, and incoming freshman Ben McKelvy, Tommy Mendyke, and Sean Brennan provide additional depth to what should be a very strong unit.
There are 70 Division 1 Men’s NCAA lacrosse teams. 16 of these teams will make the tournament, with 8 receiving automatic bids. The one guaranteed way for Rutgers to qualify for its 2nd consecutive tourney appearance is to win the Big Ten championship. That has been near impossible in recent seasons with Maryland’s dominance. There are also 8 at large bids, leaving 62 teams competing for those handful of spots.
RU’s schedule certainly gives them the opportunity to build a solid resume. With out-of-conference games against pre-season top 10 teams # 8 Loyola and # 10 Army, and conference games against #2 MD and #19 Hopkins, there will be plenty of opportunity to build that resume to help offset conference losses and the one or two out-of-conference slip-ups.
Unfortunately in lacrosse, you can have a really good season and be left out of the dance as we have seen over the years with the Rutgers men’s squad. Be prepared for some early season bumps and closer-than-expected games as this team begins to gel heading into conference play in what should be a very fun and exciting season.
I’ll be bringing you recaps after each game.