Before Oct. 12, the Drexel University field hockey team was 4-2 against ranked opponents and had a chance to make a statement against the then-No. 11 University of Iowa. The then-No. 15 Dragons (11-5, 3-1 Colonial Athletic Association) fell to the Hawkeyes (10-4, 3-1 Big Ten) in a lopsided 3-1 loss. The loss marked just the second time that the Dragons were defeated in back-to-back games this season after losing Oct. 7 to No. 9 Old Dominion University. Just two days later, the Dragons traveled to New York City to face Columbia University (8-5, 3-1 Ivy League). Drexel bounced back from its short losing skid, downing the Lions 1-0.
Even with the losses to ODU and Iowa, the Dragons only dropped three spots in the National Field Hockey Coaches Association Poll to No. 18.
The drop in the poll and the back-to-back losses don’t take away from head coach Denise Zelenak’s pride in her team this season.
“Being 11-5 right now is fantastic,” Zelenak said. “There’s a couple of games I could sit here and [want] to take back, but for the most part on how they’re performing and the wins we’ve been getting out of the 11 have been fantastic.”
Drexel faced Iowa at the neutral site of State College, Pa. The Hawkeyes poured pressure onto the Dragons from the opening whistle, scoring their first goal in the first minute of the game. The play started with a net-mouth scramble with Kelsey Mitchell ultimately burying the goal for the Hawkeyes. At the 20-minute mark, Iowa was awarded a penalty corner, resulting in the Hawkeyes’ second goal of the game. Markie Stribos ripped a shot at sophomore goalie Jantien Gunter, producing a rebound, which Stribos buried to make it 2-0 Hawkeyes. The Dragons controlled the play after the goal, producing five shots and drawing four penalty corners, but they couldn’t capitalize on those opportunities. Once the play turned back in Iowa’s favor, the Hawkeyes scored another goal off a penalty corner, widening the lead to a comfortable 3-0 margin.
In the second half, play swayed back and forth, and the Dragons were able to score their first goal of the game at the 59-minute mark. Senior midfielder Amanda Fleischut scored her ninth goal of the season off a penalty corner, bringing Drexel within two. After the goal, neither team recorded any more shots. In the 66th minute, Zelenak pulled her goalie to add an extra attacker to no avail. The Dragons failed to record a shot, even with the extra attacker, and lost the game 3-1.
Iowa outshot Drexel 14-10, but the Dragons forced Iowa goalie Kathleen McGraw to make only two saves in the second half.
The loss was deflating for the Dragons, but Zelenak liked the fight her young team showed against a highly ranked team.
“[Iowa] scored two goals in the first half, and they were all corner goals, and I was really worried with that happening against a team like that,” Zelenak said. “The rest of the game was a great game to watch. It was really back and forth. We still had opportunities, and they’re a really good team. … That’s the difference with a really young team — they don’t know any better than to just go as hard as they can.”
Drexel looked to bounce back against Columbia, and they did. The Dragons scored their first and only goal of the game eight minutes in. Junior midfielder Lindsay McArdle scored off a deflection from the right side of the net on a shot by freshman midfielder Danielle Grassi. The goal was McArdle’s eighth of the season. The Lions didn’t make it easy for Drexel in the second half. Columbia registered 15 shots in the second half, but Gunter shut the door, picking up her fifth shutout of the season.
The win wasn’t flashy, but Zelenak chalked up the victory to a learning experience.
“I think we learn something from every game,” Zelenak said. “So that [game] means any team, regardless of what they have on paper, can take it to you.
The Dragons have had 10 games decided by one goal, eight of which they have won. Fleischut and McArdle are the only two players on the team with more than 10 points, and they have combined for 17 goals.
“I think if we were a little bit more mature we would just be able to take advantage of opportunities and put goals away, but we’re not,” Zelenak said. “We’re not great at running up scores, but when it’s on the line, people usually step up.”
Drexel will return to action Oct. 19 against the CAA rival University of Delaware. The Blue Hens (5-10, 1-3 CAA) will no doubt be looking to play spoiler against a team ahead of them in the CAA standings.
“I fear Delaware sometimes more than Northeastern in the sense that I don’t want them to look past Delaware to get to the Northeastern game, because the Delaware game is even more important,” Zelenak said. “[Conference games] are battles regardless of records.”