2022 NCAA Lacrosse Preview: No. 10 Rutgers (Men)

PHOTO BY JOHN STROHSACKER

The security blanket at the back of the defense, Colin Kirst made a major impact in his first year with the Scarlet Knights


The 2022 college lacrosse season is nearly upon us. As is our annual tradition, we’re featuring every team ranked in the Nike/USA Lacrosse Preseason Top 20.

Check back to USALaxMagazine.com each weekday this month for new previews, scouting reports and rival analysis.

NO. 10 RUTGERS

2021 Record: 9-4 (8-2 Big Ten)
Final Ranking (2021): No. 6
Coach: Brian Brecht (11th year)

At this time a year ago, it was no sure thing Rutgers would be one of the big winners from college lacrosse’s transfer carousel in the middle of a pandemic.

Yes, the Scarlet Knights had picked up Connor Kirst, who had thrived as a midfielder at Villanova. Coming along as well was Colin Kirst, a goalie with one career start and a .434 save percentage at Lehigh. Faceoff specialist Jonathan Dugenio arrived from St. John’s.

It soon became apparent this would be more than just a feel-good story about the Kirst brothers reuniting at their late father’s alma mater. Connor Kirst switched positions and delivered 37 goals and 16 assists on an ancient-by-college-standards starting attack. Colin Kirst blossomed into a third-team All-America selection.

Dugenio wasn’t a star (though Rutgers’ Big Ten-only schedule played a part in that), but he was reliable, taking more than 70 percent of the Scarlet Knights’ draws and winning 15 of 27 against North Carolina in an NCAA quarterfinal.

All three were major contributors for the program’s long-awaited postseason breakthrough. First NCAA berth in 17 years. First postseason victory since 1990. Forced the top seed in the tournament to overtime.

The interest Rutgers generated with its appealing style of play and success compounded, and coach Brian Brecht understandably went back to the transfer well to plug some holes as the Scarlet Knights look to build on last year’s impressive showing.

“I think all the grad transfers that came in made an impact,” Brecht said. “Same with the guys coming in this year. We see them all being impactful on game day for us. The guys that came last year and the guys that came this year, they wanted to be at Rutgers. I think they were excited to join us. I really didn’t feel like I was twisting their arms or begging them to come. When we reached out, they reciprocated.”

NIKE/USAL PRESEASON TOP 20
TEAM PREVIEWS

1. Virginia

2. Maryland

3. Duke

4. Georgetown

5. Notre Dame

6. North Carolina

7. Loyola

8. Yale

9. Penn

10. Rutgers

11. Lehigh

12. Denver

13. Army

14. Syracuse

15. Johns Hopkins

16. Delaware

17. Drexel

18. Cornell

19. Vermont

20. Bryant

Help arrived pretty much everywhere on the field. Mitch Bartolo, who has NCAA tournament experience from Penn’s 2019 quarterfinal appearance, could help as much as anyone. Ronan Jacoby averaged a hat trick in three seasons at Division III Wesleyan. Rutgers picked up help on defense with Brad Apgar (Salisbury) and Bryant Boswell (Bucknell) coming on board.

There’s help in the cage (ex-Providence goalie Toby Burgdorf) and on faceoffs (Sam Stephan, who won 54.5 percent of his draws at Mount St. Mary’s over the last four seasons). They’ll also have long pole Brian Ward, who transferred from Yale before last season but missed the spring with an injury.

One thing Brecht is not worried about as Rutgers heads into a season with a bigger target than in decades is how the new pieces will fit together — or with the Scarlet Knights’ holdovers.

“Give our guys in the locker room a lot of credit,” Brecht said. “Thanks to the [Kieran] Mullins’ and [Adam] Charalamabides’ and the [Christian] Mazzones and the [Michael] Rexrodes and the Scott Biedas and the some of the guys that have been in that locker room and created that culture, we have a great locker room.”

The transfer influx can help a program live by the get-old-and-stay-old credo, but Rutgers still isn’t going to be as old as it was last year on attack. Connor Kirst was in his fifth college season. Mullins spent the last five years at Rutgers, and Charalambides spent seven years in the program because of a confluence of COVID-19 and injuries.

Reworking the attack is the biggest task in front of Brecht. Ross Scott figures to be part of the answer there, and the Scarlet Knights’ midfield depth makes it easier to permit him to leave that unit. Brecht’s best teams have utilized some combination of two-way middies and defensive midfielders with developed offensive skillsets, and that shouldn’t change in 2022.

A defense that was better than it was given credit for much of last season brings back Jaryd Jean-Felix and Bobby Russo on close and Ethan Rall at pole, and Colin Kirst is a far more proven entity now.

So even without an injection of graduate transfers, Rutgers would be fine. Those guys just happen to provide some instant answers as the Scarlet Knights look to take another step forward.

“When you have graduate students and a master’s program and a Big Ten lacrosse program and the location we have here close to New York City, close to New Jersey, I feel like we’ll hopefully continue to be a destination for these high achievers who want to get a master’s and play at a high level when they finish their careers,” Brecht said.






z

TOP RETURNERS

Jaryd Jean-Felix, D, Sr.

A fine example of Rutgers recruiting well in non-traditional areas, the Cumming, Ga., product blossomed last season into a second team all-Big Ten pick. He and long pole Ethan Rall should be pivotal pieces on a defense that tended to get overlooked at times because of the Scarlet Knights’ explosive offense.

Colin Kirst, G, Sr.

The security blanket at the back of the defense, Kirst made a major impact in his first year with the Scarlet Knights and should be one of the nation’s top netminders. “A third team All-American last year and I really think he might have been a first teamer. Maybe if you win one more game, that’s the case,” Brecht said. “He’s been a great mentor for the young guys, a great leader for the starters and just individually does a lot for us. … As much as I like the defense, having him backing up the defense makes me more excited.”

Shane Knobloch, M, So.

The Big Ten’s freshman of the year had 16 goals on 32.7 percent shooting last season, and he figures to be further up the scouting report in his second year. Look for Knoblock and David Sprock (17 goals, 10 assists) to be especially valuable early on as so many new pieces find their footing in Piscataway.

KEY ADDITION

Mitch Bartolo, M, Sr.

There are plenty of transfers to choose from, and the 6-foot-6, 225-pound Bartolo is as established as any of them after a 17-goal season as part of Penn’s 2019 NCAA quarterfinalists. He could be the latest veteran used in creative ways by the Scarlet Knights. “You’re not going to go wrong with that one with the success he had and the size he brings to the table,” Brecht said.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE

Ross Scott, A, Jr.

The Oregon product won’t be an out-of-nowhere sort after posting nine goals and five assists last season. The Scarlet Knights wanted to get him on the field the last two years and used him as a midfielder, but there’s a good chance he sees extended playing time on attack as a junior.

ENEMY LINES

What rival coaches say about the Scarlet Knights:

“I think getting the goalie back is huge and arguably the top returning goalie out there. They have a lot of experience. You lose a veteran attackman in Kirst, but defensively, they’re pretty much all back there. They’re all back at the faceoff X. They push the ball and they do what they do, so with some of the transfers, they probably feel like they can just plug and play.”

BEYOND THE BASICS
POWERED BY LACROSSE REFERENCE

35.5

Rutgers is losing a lot of production from last year’s team. Charalambides, Kirst, Mullins — those were the top-three rotation players for the Scarlet Knights, and all have moved on. But it’s not as dire as it looks. Rutgers’ incoming transfers generated 35.5 worth of EGA (expected goals) last season, which is the fifth-most of any division men’s lacrosse team that has published their 2022 roster. Big holes for sure, but they’ve brought in some players who can fill them. — Zack Capozzi

Lacrosse Reference Glossary

Most Recent

No Task Too Small: Matt Moore's Growth into a Mature Leader

Moore has two NCAA championship rings. He's chasing a third.

D-III Women's Recap: Analysis, Scores from Third Round of NCAA Tournament

Outside of one game, the teams that led at halftime went on to win.

Princeton Adds to Storied History, Returns to Championship Weekend

The Tigers took down Yale 14-10 and is back in the Final Four after two decades away.

Baughan, Princeton Defense Lock In After 'Upgrade Season'

The defense limited Yale star Matt Brandau to just one goal in the 14-10 win.







Twitter Posts