By: Sal Marinello – President, Athletic Development Coaching
Rutgers University Men’s Lacrosse Team, ranked 5th in the nation, beat in-state rival and 16th ranked Princeton University 16-11 Wednesday night at Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights are now 7-0 and off to their best start in over a decade.
Rutgers Men’s Lacrosse, which competes in the Big Ten, has been enjoying a resurgence over the past few seasons under Head Coach Brian Brecht. They finished 11-5 last year, good for second place in the conference, and lost to eventual national runner-up Maryland in the Big Ten final. The Scarlet Knights did not make the NCAA men’s lacrosse tournament in 2016, which was viewed as a travesty by all lacrosse experts except those on the selection committee.
At issue last year was the fact that Rutgers beat perennial powerhouse Johns Hopkins twice – regular season and in the Big Ten tournament – and had a superior record, 11-5 versus 8-7. Yet Hopkins was selected for the tourney. Hopkins was thoroughly outclassed in their first round game, losing to Brown 17-8.
Photo: JHU Hub
The Scarlet Knights have hit the ground running in 2017, reeling off 7 straight impressive victories to start the season. With two more games against teams they should beat before the Big Ten games start – NJIT and Delaware – Rutgers should be 9-0 when they face off against Hopkins on March 31 in their first conference game, in Baltimore. Johns Hopkins is an affiliate member of the Big Ten lacrosse conference.
After the Hopkins game the Scarlet Knights are at the Big House to play Michigan on April 8, home against #4 Maryland on April 16, at #3 Penn State on April 23, before finishing the regular season at home against #17 Ohio State on April 29. If Rutgers has true national title hopes, and if they want to earn the respect of the lacrosse establishment, they will need to be 11-0 going into their last three games, and beat 2 of those 3 teams.
Last year Rutgers clearly deserved to be in the tourney, so this year – unfair as it seems – the team cannot afford to stumble down the stretch, including in the Big Ten tournament. They surely remember the sting of being left out of last year’s national tournament and can use this experience to push themselves down the stretch.
Now lacrosse has been a ‘niche sport’ ever since its inception, but not in New Jersey. And despite the fact that many residents are unaware that the Garden State has long been a hotbed of lacrosse talent, the state has always produced top-level talent. Now that lacrosse has gone nationwide, no other sport has grown as fast. From 2009-2014 lacrosse grew 28% at the high school level, and no other sport grew at even 10% rate over this same period, and New Jersey is still producing top talent.
This year’s Rutgers squad, their 50-man roster, features 19 players from New Jersey, most of whom are key contributors. Looking at their next group of recruits the Knights have 6 New Jersey commits in a group of 17 players. New Jersey lacrosse players have been a major part of Rutgers Men’s Lacrosse resurgence, as well as being a major part of other top college programs. Looking at the other teams in the top 5, these programs all have New Jersey players on their rosters; #1 Denver 4, #2 Notre Dame 7, #3 Penn State 4, #4 Maryland 5.
Rutgers has struggled as a member of the Big Ten in the marquee sports of football and basketball. Perhaps these sports can learn from the example set by Coach Brecht and his Scarlet Knights Men’s Lacrosse program; get more New Jersey players to stay in the state.