Can Rutgers’ Defense Continue to Trend Upwards in 2022?

(Photo Courtesy of Rutgers Athletics)

Brian Brecht and the Rutgers Scarlet Knights have had, perhaps, the best summer of any college lacrosse program to date, bringing in six transfers to pad the Scarlet Knights’ roster in 2022.

Less than a month after their season came to a close in the NCAA Quarterfinals, Rutgers has added a slew of game-changers to their roster with former Penn midfielder Mitch Bartolo, North Carolina attackman Brian Cameron, Wesleyan attackman Ronan Jacoby, Salisbury defenseman Brad Apgar, Providence goalie Toby Bugdorf, and Mount St. Mary’s faceoff man Sam Stephan all jumping into the boat. And while a number of these additions, especially those who are proven at the DI level, reside on the offensive side of the field and will surely benefit a unit that also returns some young talent, the Rutgers defense and additions on that end should not be overlooked at all.

The Scarlet Knights’ defense finished the 2021 season tied with Bryant as the 34th-ranked team in scoring defense, allowing 11.15 goals per game. And while that is still a far cry away from being a top-five defense or matching their numbers from 2017 and 2018 when they featured a top-25 defense and allowed less than 10 points per game on average, it is still a pretty good improvement from where Rutgers has been defensively over the two seasons prior.

During the shortened 2021 season Rutgers ranked 46th in DI in scoring defenses last season, allowing 12.50 goals per game. They were 42nd nationally in 2019, allowing 11.60 goals per game.

Coming into the 2022 season, the Scarlet Knights have all the tools necessary to continue to trend upwards and improve on the back end, especially as far as close defense is concerned.

Yes, it still has to be seen how well Apgar translates to the DI game but the Milford, N.J., native certainly made a name for himself during his time with Salisbury, where he started every game of his final three seasons and was twice named an All-American (2019, 2021). Additionally, he has a solid senior season as far as production goes, ranking second in caused turnovers with 26 and fifth in ground balls with 39 for while helping to lead the Seagulls to an NCAA title game appearance.

Burgdorf is a proven playmaker at the DI level, having done just that as the starter in between the pipes for Providence over the past two seasons. The Westfield, N.J., native put up an 81-save (.628% save percentage) performance during the shortened 2020 season before making 163 saves with a .509% save percentage while helping lead Providence to the Big East Tournament in 2021.

The two transfer portal additions on the back end arrive at Rutgers with impressive resumes’ and will likely have a strong chance to start and be a big piece of the Scarlet Knights’ defense in 2022. But it’s not only the new additions on the back end that can or will make some serious headway next spring.

The Scarlet Knights return three of their top poles, including two starting close defensemen, from last season. Rising senior LSM Ethan Rall (26GB/14CT) and defenseman Bobby Russo (28GB/11CT) will both be back, as well as Second-Team All-Big Ten and Honorable Mention All-American Jaryd Jean-Felix (20GB/12CT) who will return for a fifth season. Jean-Felix made the announcement on Instagram over the weekend.

SSDM Brennan Kamish will also be back for a fifth season after a 2021 campaign that saw him lead the Scarlet Knights’ rope unit with 17 ground balls and seven caused turnovers while also serving as somewhat of a human clearing machine. He also had nine points (6G/3A).

The three aforementioned poles and Kamish were not only crucial to the Scarlet Knights’ success and improvement on the back end last season, but also came up huge in the clearing game where Rutgers was a top-10 team and boasted an 89% success rate. That aided the Rutgers offense and allowed them to get going at ‘NASCAR’ speed various times during the 2021 season.

Rutgers certainly has the singular pieces that are needed to put together a solid defensive unit next spring, and if Brian Brecht and his staff can get those pieces to click and gel as one unit there is no reason not to believe that the Scarlet Knights can continue to grow on the back end in 2022.

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