Rutgers men’s lacrosse opened up the season Saturday afternoon against the Lehigh Mountain Hawks on a cold, but thankfully sunny and dry day at SHI stadium. The 2023 season saw Rutgers finish with a record of 8-6 overall and 1-4 in conference, failing to make the NCAA tournament for a third consecutive season.
The 2024 squad debuted a slew of first-time starters:
- Grad student, midfielder John Sidorski switched jerseys from Lehigh to Rutgers this offseason
- Grad student, attacker Tanyr Krummenacher from Amherst College
- An entire new defensive unit: Ben McKelvy, Tommy Mendyke, and Conor Udovich
- Sophomore Cardin Stoller in net for the first time, part of Inside Lacrosse’s Top 50 2023 freshman class
- An entirely new face-off unit: Grad transfer Cole Brams from Utah and Matt Soutar from Monmouth.
One thing I’ve learned about February lacrosse. The results can be wild. Just see No. 4 Penn State’s loss to Colgate and No. 5 Hopkins’s epic meltdown against No. 10 Denver if you need proof. Rutgers came into this match knowing that their high-powered offense would have to carry them with an inexperienced unit on the defensive end. All-Americans Ross Scott and Shane Knobloch, along with the experience of Jack Aimone and Dante Kulas pace a speedy, high-powered offense that will be leaned on heavily this season as the defense settles in.
Lehigh brought in their own star power, with All-American Scott Cole tallying 75 points last season at the attack and Richard Checo setting a program record with 54 turnovers caused.
The Mountain Hawks would jump out to a quick 2-0 lead in the first period but Rutgers would tie up the match on goals by Dante Kulas and Jack Aimone. The Mountain Hawks would score the next three, taking a 5-2 lead into the 2nd period. Of note, all five Lehigh goals were unassisted, as color analyst and former coach Rick Mercurio. This was indicative of Rutgers’s shoddy defensive play throughout the match with an entirely new and inexperienced unit playing together.
The second period saw Rutgers claw back and take the lead, 6-5, with four consecutive goals. Ross Scott, Shane Knobloch, Ryan Splaine and Dante Kulas all found paydirt. Scott Cole would tie it for the Hawks. Grad transfer Tanner Germain from Bucknell would put RU back up by one. With just six ticks left in the period, however, LU’s Andrew Kelly exploited the struggling Rutgers defense to tie the match up, 7-7, heading into the half.
Rutgers would outscore Lehigh 5-3 in the 3rd, to take a slim 12-10 lead heading into the final period. Aimone added two more for the hat trick and Sidorski would hurt his former team, netting two goals within 11 seconds of each other late in the period. Both were assisted by Kulas.
E.J. Vasile would pull the Mountain Hawks within a goal, at 12-11, with eleven minutes remaining but the Knights would then settle in on defense, for the most part. Scott added his second goal with 8:27 to push RU’s lead to 13-11 and add some much-needed insurance as Lehigh would not go away. Andrew Kelly pulled the Hawks within one with just over three minutes left but Knobloch’s goal with 34 ticks left pushed RU’s lead out to 14-12 and they would win the subsequent face-off and seal the victory.
- The new face-off tandem of Brams and Soutar won 18 of 30 matchups, or 60%, which for an RU fan, is music to our ears after the struggles in the circle last season
- Rutgers improved to 41-8-1 all-time against Lehigh, 41-3 since 1926 and 15-1 since 1961
- Cardin Stoller made ten saves in his college debut
- Zak Conley had a career-high three ground balls and one caused turnover
- RU outpaced LU 32-22 on ground balls
- Lehigh was near perfect, clearing 17 of 18 opportunities while RU showed rust, failing on 3 of their 16 clear attempts
“On offense, we were winning our matchups. Our new guys have been integrated into our system and did a good job in big spots. Hopefully we can keep it going moving forward.”
Jack Aimone, Rutgers senior attacker
The challenging early-season schedule continues out to my neck of the woods on Long Island for a matchup against the Stony Brook Seawolves February 10th at Noon.