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No. 1 Maryland men’s lacrosse vs. No. 4 Rutgers preview

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With three regular season games left, the Terps will try and stay perfect in 2022.

Photo courtesy of Taylor McLaughlin, Maryland Athletics

Following a 20-12 win at Michigan that moved its record to 9-0 overall and 2-0 in the Big Ten, No. 1 Maryland men’s lacrosse returns home for a high-stakes matchup against a top-five opponent in No. 4 Rutgers.

It’s been six weeks since the Terps played at Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium, and Sunday’s game begins a two-game homestand in the heart of conference play.

“There’s nothing like playing at Maryland Stadium... it’s a great atmosphere and it’s so fun playing in front of all the fans just knowing they have your back,” sophomore attacker Eric Malever said. “I think everyone’s really excited to finally be home.”

Maryland is 32-1 all-time over Rutgers, and the Scarlet Knights’ sole victory was a 9-8 win over a century ago in 1920. Since the teams both joined the Big Ten, the Terps are 9-0 over the Scarlet Knights and won both matchups last season by a combined score of 32-21.

This is probably Rutgers’ best team since joining the conference and Sunday’s game has a good chance to decide who will win the Big Ten regular season championship and be the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten tournament.

“If you can’t get excited about [this game], I want to check your pulse. That’s why you [come] here,” Maryland head coach John Tillman said.

Sunday’s game will start at 7 p.m. and will be broadcasted live on Big Ten Network.

No. 4 Rutgers Scarlet Knights (10-1, 2-0 Big Ten)

2021 record: 9-4, 8-2 Big Ten

Brian Brecht is in his 11th season as head coach at Rutgers and has turned the Scarlet Knights into one of the top teams in the country. Last year’s team was the first NCAA Tournament team at Rutgers since 2004, earning him the Big Ten Coach of the Year award. After failing to have a winning record through his first four seasons, Brecht’s teams have finished with more wins than losses in all but one of the last five full seasons. The 2019 senior class was the winningest to ever play for Rutgers. Brecht has coached 19 All-Americans and 23 professionals while at Rutgers.

Following the success they had in 2021, Rutgers has continued to ascend in 2022. The Scarlet Knights are 10-1 overall, their only loss coming on the road against then-No. 7 Princeton. This year’s team reached double-digit wins faster than any other in program history and currently controls its own destiny to win the Big Ten regular season championship. Rutgers looks to be Maryland’s toughest challenge on paper in the three regular season games remaining on its schedule.

“You can’t give Rutgers [many] opportunities,” Tillman said. “We’ve got to stay fundamentally solid and make good decisions.”

Players to watch

Ethan Rall, senior long-stick midfielder, No. 29 — Over the last two years, Ethan Rall has established himself as one of the Big Ten’s best long-stick midfielders. His 2021 campaign earned him Second Team All-Big Ten and USILA Honorable Mention All-American honors, and he has been even better this season in his senior season. Through 11 games, Rall has caused a team-high 23 turnovers and is second on the team with 32 ground balls, only trailing junior faceoff specialist Jonathan Dugenio. He was Rutgers’ sole member of Inside Lacrosse’s Midseason All-American First Team.

Ross Scott, junior attacker, No. 5 — Scott is the Scarlet Knights’ leading scorer this season by over 10 points, putting up 50 points with 30 goals and 20 assists. During the first two seasons of his career, Scott was a midfielder who had attacking tendencies, but he fully committed to attack in 2022 and has thrived. As the focal point of the nation’s third-highest scoring offense, Scott was named a Third Team Inside Lacrosse Midseason All-American and was included on the 2022 Tewaaraton Watch List. Watch for a matchup of Oregon natives if Maryland sophomore defenseman Ajax Zappitello gets an opportunity to defend Scott on Sunday.

Brennan Kamish, senior short-stick defensive midfielder, No. 44 — Kamish made the transition to short-stick defensive midfielder in 2021 after three seasons of college lacrosse (two at Rutgers, one at Detroit Mercy) and has fit right in as one of the Big Ten’s best at that position. He has scooped 18 ground balls and forced eight turnovers in 11 games this season, but as is the case with many short-stick defensive midfielders, Kamish’s ability to alter the game goes beyond the stat sheet. His versatility and experience make him a uniquely tough matchup for Maryland’s offense.

Shane Knobloch, sophomore midfielder, No. 27 — Shane Knobloch has started all but two games in his two years at Rutgers, quickly proving himself as one of the team’s top talents. He finished fifth on last year’s team with 21 points, earning him the 2021 Big Ten Freshman of the Year award. He topped that mark in ten games this season, and Knobloch tallied three goals and two assists last week against Johns Hopkins, good for his fourth hat trick of the season. He was an honorable mention in Inside Lacrosse’s Midseason All-American honors.

Strength

Midfield depth. Rutgers sports one of the nation’s most talented and deepest midfield units both on offense and defense. In addition to Rall, Kamish and Knobloch, the Scarlet Knights send out a 24-goal scorer in senior midfielder Ronan Jacoby as well as an elite short-stick defensive midfielder in senior Zackary Franckowiak. The midfield is often the catalyst of both a team’s offense and its defense, and Rutgers’ top-notch midfield unit is a major reason for their success on both ends of the field.

Weakness

Returning offensive production from last year. Rutgers hasn’t shown any real vulnerability through 11 games this season. But, other than a rivalry game against Princeton in March (the Scarlet Knights’ only loss), much of Rutgers’ attack hasn’t started in a game the magnitude of Sunday’s matchup against No. 1 Maryland. After last season, Rutgers graduated all three of its starting attackmen, the team’s three highest scorers. They also lost their top scoring midfielder David Sprock because of an injury suffered in the preseason. There’s nothing that has indicated Rutgers’ attack isn’t ready, but if there’s going to be a moment where their lack of experience catches up to them it will most likely come on Sunday.

Three things to watch

1. Another week, another high-scoring opponent. It seems like every week the Terps play a team ranked in the top-five nationally in scoring offense. Rutgers is no different, ranking third nationally with an average of 16.27 goals per game. It is the only team in Division I with five separate 20-goal scorers, led by Scott as well as senior stars Mitch Bartolo and Ronan Jacoby. Maryland’s defense has been outstanding this season and has consistently shown up against its most difficult opponents, but Rutgers will be one of the most explosive teams the Terps see all year.

2. Sunday could be a special day for Logan Wisnauskas. With a three-goal, three-assist performance against Michigan that earned him Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors, fifth-year attacker Logan Wisnauskas brought his career point total to 288, just two shy of Jared Bernhardt’s all-time Maryland record of 290. Wisnauskas is averaging approximately 5.7 points per game this season and has registered a point in all 66 games of his college career. Needing only two points to tie the record and three to break it, there’s a good chance that Wisnauskas will walk off the field Sunday as the most productive offensive player in Maryland men’s lacrosse history. He will have his work cut out for him, however, facing one of the country’s best goalies in senior Colin Kirst.

“[He’s] probably the best goalie we’ve seen and maybe will see. Tons of respect for Kirst,” Tillman said.

Sophomore attacker Eric Malever expressed his confidence in Wisnauskas despite the challenge.

“I’m sure he will break [the record] and it’s going to be a great moment for him, for us and for the Maryland lacrosse program,” Malever said.

3. Controlling the flow of the game. Under Brecht, Rutgers has developed a reputation as one of the teams with the fastest paces of play in the country.

“They’re very good in transition. They’ll push the ball whenever they can... you have to defend early offense,” Tillman said.

Maryland has been one of the best teams in the country this season at controlling the style of play, ranking sixth nationally in time-of-possession per Lacrosse Reference, also ranking first in game control. The Scarlet Knights are right behind that mark, however, ranked second in game control. The Terps are more than capable of running in transition and won’t shy away from a track meet on Sunday, but Maryland can’t afford to let Rutgers run without making quick substitutions and being swift with defensive slides.