Fall Snapshot: Rutgers Scarlet Knights

(Photo Courtesy of Rutgers Athletics)

Welcome to the Fall Snapshot series. Throughout the fall I will be taking an early look at all 75 DI men’s college lacrosse teams and giving a snapshot of where each is heading into the 2023 season.

Head Coach: Brian Brecht (12th, 2012-Current)

Rutgers 2022 Record: 15-5 (4-1 Big Ten)

Key Departures: Mitch Bartolo (A), Ronan Jacoby (M), Ryan Gallagher (M), Brennan Kamish (SSDM), Jaryd Jean-Felix (D), Bryant Boswell (D), Colin Kirst (G)

Key Returners: Ross Scott (A), Shane Knobloch (M), Brian Cameron (M), Jonathan Dugenio (FO), Ethan Rall (LSM) and Bobby Russo (D)

Transfer Additions: Mitch Baker (A, Australia), Joe Neuman (FO, Yale), Jon Miller (M, Bryant),Ryan Decker (SSDM, Colgate), Noah Daniels (SSDM, Mount St. Mary’s), Zak Conley (D, Binghamton),LaJhon Jones (D/LSM,Bryant), Anthony Palma (G, Stony Brook), Kyle Mullin (G, Harvard)

Last spring saw Rutgers lacrosse churn out its best season in program history. The Scarlet Knights went 15-4 (4-1 Big Ten), fell in the Big Ten title game to Maryland, earned the No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and with wins over Harvard and Penn advanced to Championship Weekend for the first time ever in program history.

A big aspect contributing to Rutgers’ success – both in 2021 and 2022 – was its efforts in the transfer portal. Mitch Bartolo, Ronan Jacoby, and Brian Cameron were all top-five scorers for the Scarlet Knights last season as transfer additions. The same was true on the defensive end with pole Bryant Boswell. Goalie Colin Kirst and faceoff man Jonathan Dugenio were brought in via the portal ahead of the 2021 season.

Heading into the 2023 season, much appears the same at Rutgers as they have brought in nine transfers. However, there is expected to be much more talent on the field this spring that the Scarlet Knights recruited, retained, and developed. That is especially true on offense. With that, is a second trip to Championship Weekend in the future for this program?

Burning Questions

Who Wins The Goalie Battle?

Maybe the biggest question heading into the 2023 season for this Rutgers program is that of who will get the starting nod in between the pipes. After two season of Colin Kirst anchoring the Scarlet Knights defense, the coaching staff now turns towards its goalie room for the next starter. And it is a goalie room headlined by transfers.

Anthony Palma and Kyle Mullin both arrived at Rutgers as grad transfers from Stony Brook and Harvard, respectively. Both are experienced after being multi-year starters at their former stops. Palma is coming off a 2022 campaign in which he made 128 saves with 51% save percentage while Mullin recorded  153 saves with a 50% save percentage this past spring. In addition to those two, Rutgers has junior Liam Gray and freshman Cardin Stoller on roster.

Palma and Mullin are clearly in the spots spots to take over as the starter in cage for the Scarlet Knights. The battle for that job and who ultimately comes out on top will is one of the most interesting storylines in the sport coming into the spring.

What to Expect From The Rutgers Defense?

11.6. 12.5. 11.15. 11.3. That is how many goals per game Rutgers allowed in 2019 (15 games), 2020 (six games), 2021 (13 games), and 2022 (19 games). The Scarlet Knights have made clear overall progress on the back end and that defense hit its peak in the NCAA Tournament, holding Harvard and Penn to nine goals in consecutive games.

That defense, which ranked 30th in scoring defense and 20th in efficiency, loses much more than just its goalie. Defensemen Jaryd Jean-Felix and Bryant Boswell are also gone, as well as short-stick defensive midfielders Brennan Kamish, Zackary Franckowiak, and Cole Daninger. LSM Ethan Rall (51GB/31CT) and Bobby Russo (42GB/12CT) are both highly-proven players, but the only two returning starters. Brad Apgar (3GB/4CT), who saw action in 10 games with two starts, is the next best proven pole returning. Who else gets in the mix and how that will impact the effectiveness of both the close defense and the rope unit, which has earned a reputation as an offensive kickstarter, will be very interesting to watch.

Names you should, or could, hear in that mix include transfer LSM/D LaJhon Jones and SSDMs Jon Miller Ryan Decker and Noah Daniels. At Bryant, Jones played in 28 games with 15 starts at close. He recorded a team-high 16 caused turnovers while also grabbing 20 ground balls and scoring four goals last spring. Miller had two goals, two assists, 26 ground balls, and 10 caused turnovers as a two-way threat for the Bulldogs. Decker (2G/14GB/3CT) and Daniels (9G/4A/44GB/13CT) played similar roles at Colgate and Mount St. Mary’s.

How Will The Younger, Inexperienced Offensive Talent Progress?

Ross Scott moved from midfield to attack last season as a junior and was the Scarlet Knights’ top scorer with 50 goals and 25 assists. Junior Shane Knobloch (32G/16A) and fifth-year Brian Cameron (34G/10A) also return as top producers from a year ago. Midfielder David Sprock will also be back after missing all of last spring due to injury. He was the team’s top midfielder in 2021 with 17 goals and 10 assists. Those four make up what looks to be the veteran core of the Rutgers offense. Below them is a group of younger players who we should see step up even more this spring.

Dante Kulas is the headliner of that group. Limited to nine games due to injury, Kulas had nine goals and five assists on the season for 14 points. Six of those points came against Stony Brook, where he went 4-2. Nick Teresky is another name to know after having six goals and seven assists last season.

Rutgers loses 141 points between Mitch Bartolo, Ronan Jacoby, and Ryan Gallagher. But they have a solid foundation of experienced players to help account for that lost production. Expectations for that group is and should be high. Many younger players will be tasked with stepping up and providing more production. Just how good and consistent that group will be is the biggest question heading into the spring for this offense, which was one of the best in college lacrosse (14.4 goals per game) a year ago.

Potential Breakout Player

Dante Kulas, Attack, Sophomore

The aforementioned Kulas, much like Knobloch was ahead of last spring, is the young player that many are watching in regards to Rutgers. After a 16-point spring, in which he was limited, as a freshman, much success could lie in immediate future for the attackman.

Freshman Class

Rutgers brings in an 11-man freshman class with its 2022 recruiting efforts. The class is highlighted by a quartet of players rated as four-star recruits by Inside Lacrosse. That includes midfielder Andrew Macheca (Culver, Ind.), attackman Ryan Kurdyla (Bridgewater-Raritan, N.J.), LSM Ryan Splaine (Gonzaga, D.C.), and goalie Cardin Stoller (Boy’s Latin, Md.).

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