College Park — In the aftermath of the No. 8 Rutgers men's lacrosse team's 11-10 loss to top-ranked Maryland at Maryland Stadium on Sunday, Scarlet Knights coach Brian Brecht was asked about his mindset regarding his team's place in the Big Ten.
His immediate response was a chuckle and a smile.
"I don't know," he said. "We've got a long bus ride home to lick our wounds. I don't know what the mindset is. We'll figure that out when we wake up tomorrow. So we've got a lot of work ahead of us and certainly we have a lot of big games starting with the one at home and then one on the road heading into May."
With a 1-3 record in the conference, Rutgers is tied with Ohio State for fourth, and both teams trail the league-leading Terps (3-0) by two games and No. 14 Penn State and No. 4 Johns Hopkins — who have 2-1 marks — by one game.
The Scarlet Knights will host the Nittany Lions on Sunday and then wrap up the regular season at the Buckeyes on April 28. Two victories would almost certainly lock up a berth in the four-team Big Ten tournament, while one loss might force them to rely on tiebreakers or even leave them out of the postseason entirely.
That's why senior attackman Jules Heningburg did not mince words about the significance of the upcoming games.
"I think these next two games are must-wins," he said.
Rutgers (8-4 overall), which has been left out of the past two NCAA tournaments despite solid resumes, has quality wins against No. 7 Syracuse, No. 18 Lehigh and No. 19 Robert Morris. Three of the team's four losses have been by one goal, and the only eyebrow-raising outcome is a 9-7 setback at Army West Point on Feb. 17.
But as far as Brecht is concerned, the only thing the players should be worried about is what is ahead, not what is behind.
"I've told them countless times, in the fall, in the preseason, we have to take care of ourselves," he said. "We're in control."