Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Lacrosse Team's No. 1 Ranking Sign of Progress for All Rutgers Sports

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Lacrosse Team's No. 1 Ranking Sign of Progress for All Rutgers Sports

Article excerpt

Mike Rexrode won't ever forget how he and his Rutgers lacrosse teammates felt at the end of last season, when the NCAA selection committee left the nationally ranked Scarlet Knights out of the tournament bracket, when a breakthrough Big Ten season and a trip to the conference title game wasn't enough to earn a coveted at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, when the collective heartbreak of an entire roster shattered the hopeful anticipation inside the room where the team had gathered to watch the selection show.

"It hurt," Rexrode remembered. "When it didn't go our way, we were pretty beat up about it."

Beat up, but not beaten.

Disappointed, but not defeated.

Rejected, but full of resolve.

"Collectively it was a huge disappointment," Rexrode said, "but at the same time we recognized that we started something pretty amazing. We knew we could take it one of two ways, to be a one-hit wonder, or buckle down and let it roll this year."

Suffice it to say they let it roll.

Speaking from the Rutgers campus only a few hours after he and so many of those same lacrosse teammates learned they'd earned the No. 1 ranking in the latest Maverik media national lacrosse poll, Rexrode stood as proof of one of the most enduring lessons of our sporting lives. Nothing is so bad that it cannot be turned into fuel for something better.

"No doubt, last year it was heartbreaking, knowing how hard we worked to get where we were," said Rexrode, a junior defenseman from Virginia. "That just made us realize we can't leave it up to anyone else. We've really taken it upon ourselves, and this year's senior class picked it up where last year's did. We were so close last year, and to have it taken away from them, we just said this year we can't leave it to the committee. We've got to take it into our own hands, win as much as we can, make the best case of ourselves, and not have to be picked to go. We've got to earn our way in."

At 8-0, after a week that included wins over three nationally ranked teams, after taking the Meistrell Cup with a rare 16-11 win over perennial powerhouse and in-state rival Princeton to go along with victories over Stony Brook and Brown, Rutgers moved up to the rarest of college sports air, to a No. 1 perch only two other teams in school history have reached, men's soccer (1991, 1995) and women's basketball (1981, 1987, 2008). For a university too often in the crosshairs of athletic ignominy, for a place that has watched its primary men's revenue sports football and basketball struggle for years, for an academic institution long on history (Rutgers was founded in 1766) but short on success, this is an occasion not simply to be noticed, but to be celebrated.

"People are delighted and really happy for (head coach) Brian (Brecht) and the kids, and obviously there's still a long way to go in the season, but I think they do feel it's an indication of a different sense of energy and effort that surrounds what we're doing in the program," athletic director Pat Hobbs said. …

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