(Photo Courtesy of Rutgers Athletics)
Just over a minute after watching North Carolina attackman Chris Gray ride all the way back and force a Rutgers turnover, the Scarlet Knights saw their historic season come to an end as Connor McCarthy put one past Colin Kirst to send the Tar Heels to Championship Weekend.
That historic season that came to a close in dramatic fashion in the NCAA Quarterfinals saw the Scarlet Knights put an end to the program’s 16-year NCAA Tournament drought and win an NCAA Tournament game for the first time since 1990.
As much as last season was the result of the building Brian Brecht has done since he arrived ahead of the 2012 season, and the fruit of the labor in which players such as Adam Charalambides, Kieran Mullins, and those that came before put in, just as much credit has to go to the Scarlet Knights’ willingness to get after it in the Transfer Portal. Rutgers picked up Connor and Colin Kirst, as well as Brian Ward and faceoff man Jonathan Dugenio ahead of the 2021 season, and the additions paid off.
Attackman Connor Kirst tallied 53 points off 37 goals and 16 assists as Rutgers’ second-leading scorer last season while his brother, Colin, anchored the Scarlet Knights’ defense with 179 saves and a 57% save percentage. Dugenio asserted himself as the top option at the faceoff dot for the Scarlet Knights.
Coming into the 2022 season, Rutgers again returns a great deal of talent. But Brecht and his staff have also turned, once again, to the transfer portal to fill out this roster and add talent where needed. While it paid off last season, will it this spring? And if so, can the Scarlet Knights go even further than they did a year ago?
Among Rutgers’ transfer portal additions, all of whom are grad transfers, are former Penn midfielder Mitch Bartolo, former Salisbury (DIII) defenseman Brad Apgar, former Wesleyan (DIII) attackman Ronan Jacoby, goalie Toby Burgdorf from Providence, as well as former Bucknell defenseman Bryant Boswell, faceoff man Sam Stephan from Mount St. Mary’s, and North Carolina attackman Brian Cameron – who will have two years of eligibility.
Bartolo, Jacoby, and Cameron join an offense that has to replace 165 points from last season with the losses of Charalambides, Mullins, and Kirst. The trio of grad transfers, who arrive at Rutgers with a combined 256 career points following strong careers at Penn, Wesleyan, and North Carolina, will be joined on the offensive end by two returning top-five scorers in senior midfielder David Sprock (17G/10A) and sophomore midfielder Shane Knobloch (16G/5A).
Additionally, junior Ross Scott (9G/5A), and fifth-year returnee Ryan Gallagher (7G/4A), who has practically been a full-time starter since he stepped foot on campus, return to add even more depth to an offense that very much needs it.
Rutgers certainly won’t be able to replace what they lost from last season, but with the guys who do return and the trio of transfers to help plug holes where needed, this is an offense that at its peak could still be, at least, a top-25 unit this spring. That is especially true if the Scarlet Knights can improve at the faceoff dot and gain a possession advantage on a regular basis.
During the shortened 2020 season, Rutgers ranked 71st in DI in faceoff percentage (.331%). Last year with Dugenio taking draws they did see some improvement, ending the season ranked 53rd in that category (.392%), but still leaving much to be desired. Dugenio went 106-for-268 (.396%).
Mount St. Mary’s grad transfer Sam Stephan comes to Rutgers after a successful career with the Mountaineers. He went 100-for-176 (56%) last season and will be in contention to be the top option for the Scarlet Knights this spring.
Defensively, Rutgers 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, ranking 46th (12.50 goals allowed per game) during the shortened 2020 season and 42nd in 2019, allowing 11.60 goals per game.
The additions of the two grad transfer poles in Apgar and Boswell, as well as goalie Toby Burgdorf, only provide more talent and depth to a unit that looks like it could very well take another step forward in 2022.
Burgdorf’s arrival creates arguably the best goalie room in the nation as the Scarlet Knights bring back Colin Kirst following a stellar 2021 season. Apgar and Boswell could very well slide in at places of need on the back end with two of their top poles in Garrett Bullett and Zach Masessa both graduating. However, the Scarlet Knights have a slew of returning poles that are also expected to make some serious headway this spring in senior LSM Ethan Rall (26GB/14CT), defenseman Bobby Russo (28GB/11CT), as well as Jaryd Jean-Felix (20GB/12CT) who returns for a fifth season.
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). LSM Brian Ward, who transferred in from Yale ahead of the 2021 season, is also expected to be an impact player on the back end after missing last season due to an injury.
The three aforementioned returning poles, and Kamish, were not only crucial to the Scarlet Knights’ success and improvement at close defense 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.
With as much talent as they have back, as well as the number of impact transfers gained, Rutgers looks like they will be able to get back to playing that exact style that yielded so much success last season, and helped lead them to one of the best seasons in program history.