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Rutgers lacrosse hopes Springsteen fever will fuel first-ever Final Four run

By on May 18, 2022 0

The hungry and the hunted did not explode into rock and roll bands.

They didn’t flash guitars or switchblades.

Armed only with lacrosse sticks, Rutgers and Harvard players ran across a grass field on Sunday as a Bloomfield broadcaster set the stage for an introduction so purely New Jersey, it was likely drenched in mozzarella and dried somewhere around the corner of tenth avenue. and E Street.

As scenes from Piscataway flashed across the screen, ESPN’s Anish Shroff dove deep into Bruce Springsteen’s songbook while welcoming his audience to everything — the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals.

“There is darkness on the outskirts of town as we cross the river to the Jersey side,” said Shroff.

Then came an aerial view of the Raritan River, followed by Rutgers, in white jerseys, running across the green grass with an American flag.

Shroff continued: “There are the hungry and the hunted. Talk about a dream and try to make it happen… two teams chasing a place in the quarter-finals – only one of them will come out of here with a victory.

To answer your question: no, there was no moaning saxophone, and for those unfamiliar with Springsteen’s lyrics of a middie longstick, maybe it’s time to pause and breathe.

Rutgers and its veteran lacrosse team have channeled their inner pride into New Jersey and people are taking notice.

After defeating Harvard on Sunday, Rutgers is one win away from reaching its first-ever Final Four. No. 6 seed Rutgers will be a slight underdog on Saturday when the Scarlet Knights take on third-seeded Penn at noon in a game played at Hofstra in Hempstead, New York.

One of the guys behind the mic for Sunday’s Jersey mania at Piscataway, will once against call the action on ESPNU. As Shroff and Quint Kessenich made their way through Sunday’s first quarter, broadcasters arrived in living rooms looking like they’d just rolled out of cages, chrome-wheeled, fuel-injected and ready to cross the line.

Throughout their two and a half hours on the air, the seasoned broadcast team collected more than 20 references to Springsteen alone and unloaded all the other factoids available on New Jersey, choosing excerpts from The Sopranos to match trivia about the Italian restaurant owned by Rutgers defenseman Bobby Russo’s family.

“I didn’t want it to overshadow the game on the field or be a distraction, but I felt we sprinkled it in to complement and not distract,” said Kessenich, who covered lacrosse for ESPN for nearly three decades. .

It became apparent early on: New Jersey’s lacrosse was center stage, and the team on the field had the same mojo as the aforementioned Springsteen hitting the fourth hour of a set at MetLife Stadium.

Speaking to NJ Advance Media on Tuesday, Kessenich noted that he and Shroff never officially said “Let’s do this,” when it comes to a Jersey-themed show, but they came to Piscataway with lyrics and enough. trivia about New Jersey if the game goes off the rails. .

“There are a lot of fans who listened and probably had no idea,” Kessenich said.

It was an opportunity for ESPN to connect with its audience, according to Kessenich. After all, this Rutgers team has bottled up as much Jersey pride as any of the University teams. Both Kessenich and Shroff saw an opportunity to play along.

During the show, Shroff told a story about pumping gas for the first time as a college student at Syracuse. The Bloomfield native wanted his rare TV appearance in his home country to be “as authentic to Jersey as possible, with a bit of ‘mutzarell’ added in,” he said.

“At the end of the day, we’re covering the lacrosse,” Schroff said. “It’s different from football or basketball. We can have fun with it. We can literally roll down the window and let the wind blow through our hair.

That’s why neither held back on Sunday — and neither did Rutgers — as leading scorer Ross Scott set a career high with eight goals and teammates Mitch Bartolo and Brian Cameron in scored three each.

All the while, a special night for New Jersey lacrosse was going on all around them. More fans attended Sunday’s game at Rutgers than any other NCAA quarterfinal played over the weekend, including on the road to Princeton, where Schroff and Kessenich called the school’s Ivy League victory on Boston University on Saturday.

According to its athletic department, Rutgers played in front of 5,212 fans. Brown shot just over 3,000 for his win over Virginia.

“When we walked onto the field for warm-ups, it was electric. It felt like a big game environment. I think our kids felt that,” Rutgers coach Brian Brecht said.

Due to the university’s opening at SHI Stadium, Rutgers played on a field that became the home of its two football teams. It was the first time Rutgers had played on grass all season and the first time Rutgers had played at Yurcak since 2013. The crowds reached capacity and this crowded field certainly added to a unique atmosphere.

Fans arrived three hours early for the tailgate. Former Rutgers players filled the gaps in front of the stands on the pitch. Youth teams crowded into the stands fresh from their own training grounds as RU chants rang out for ESPN’s cameras.

Overall, the New Jersey lacrosse community responded Brecht’s appeal to Rutgers fans to ‘pack Yurcak’ and ensuring that the Garden State is as well represented in the national spotlight as the sport’s other notorious hotbeds in places like Maryland and Long Island.

Kessenich, who has called both places home in his life, noticed the large crowds at Piscataway.

“It was a party. It was great. It was hard not to be excited,” Kessenich said.

When it comes to the Scarlet Knights and their championship aspirations, both broadcasters like what they’ve seen from Rutgers, who head into their Elite Eight clash with a single-season record of 14 wins to three losses – including two came in at No. 1 in Maryland. .

Rutgers will only see the Terps again if both teams reach the national championship game on Memorial Day.

Is it realistic?

Delaware’s upset against second-seeded Georgetown certainly helped Rutgers’ chances, according to Shroff.

“The Georgetown loss was a shock,” Shroff said. “I thought Georgetown was unequivocally the second-best team to enter the tournament. This is the one I didn’t see coming. You have to give Delaware a lot of credit, but what it does is open up the bottom half of the range for Rutgers, Penn, Cornell and shoot, I wouldn’t even count Delaware. One of these four teams will play for a national championship.

Both broadcasters noted the veteran Rutgers’ shrewd leadership, powerful offense and defense, which is anchored by one of the nation’s top goaltenders, Colin Kirst.

“Looks like the culture is strong,” Kessenich said. “They’ve had two very strong seasons now, and they’ve played in some big games, so I just think that’s exactly where they planned to be, and I think that’s where they’re ready. to win.”


A photo of broadcaster Anish Shroff, who will be ESPN’s main play-by-play voice for the NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Tournament.Joe Faraoni/ESPN Images

As he prepared to call the Rutgers-Harvard game, Shroff found himself “down a Springsteen rabbit hole,” he said.

Can we rather call it a “College Avenue Freezeout”?

While watching the tape of both teams on YouTube, Shroff clicked on a video of Springsteen and spent the next 90 minutes sucked into E Street mania. That laid the foundation for Sunday’s show, which never let up on the cries for The Boss or his unique blend of lacrosse expertise.

“It snowballed from one thing to the next, and it just started to become real-time that every time something happened, we started saying what’s the song, what’s the lyrics that sum up this moment,” Shroff said.

Most New Jerseyans probably caught Springsteen’s easy references like Rutgers’ speed-focused offense was “Born to Run.”

Of course, there were moments to celebrate “Glory Days” and a shout out for “Tunnel of Love” after a goofy formation.

There were also more subtle references for Springsteen aficionados. With Rutgers leading 7-5 at halftime, Scroll said, “Harvard didn’t find the key to the universe in the engine of a parked old car. They found it with the pick game and launched their attack after leading 6-1. Now it’s a ball game.

Like the song Shroff quoted before halftime, this Rutgers team did their “Growin’ Up.”

Last year, Rutgers lost a late lead and lost in overtime to top-seeded North Carolina in the quarterfinals, but returned to the playoffs hungrier, more experienced and ready to find their own place in the New Jersey tradition.

The New Jersey play-by-play guy in the stand was happy to play along. When asked where he stood on Springsteen’s scale of one to 10, Shroff replied, “I’m there- high, like an eight and a half or a nine.”

He attended a Springsteen show at Giants Stadium in the early 2000s.

Like the characters Springsteen writes about, Shroff’s career began as a small-town guy looking for his next big opportunity.

Shroff’s first job – working as a sportscaster at a small station in Yakima, Washington – left him wanting more. Every morning on his way to the studio, Shroff would throw out “Born to Run” and daydream about his big break.

“It was my anthem,” he said. “It’s about getting out of there to greener pastures, so I’m at Market 126, away from home… It just spoke to me. It motivated me in many ways.

Shroff first appeared on ESPN on his reality show, dream job. He was one of three finalists when the show aired in 2004. He has since risen through the broadcast ranks at the world leader and also serves as the primary radio voice for the Carolina Panthers.

He will return to ESPN’s show on Saturday, calling on a Rutgers team to tap into the Jersey mania.

The question is whether the Scarlet Knights will dance as a team in the Final Four.

Or just dance in the dark?

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Patrick Lanni can be reached at [email protected].