Coming into the 2012 season, head coach Denise Zelenak and the Drexel field hockey team were picked as the second-best team in the Colonial Athletic Association. After the first couple games it seems as though the Dragons are not only one of the best in the CAA but also among the best in the country.
For the first contest of the season Aug. 24, Drexel took on the fifth-ranked team in the nation, Duke University. Despite the high level of play, the Dragons responded with vigor by defeating the Blue Devils 1-0 at Buckley Field. During that game the Dragons outshot Duke 12-10, and it was sophomore Meghan Plank who put the Dragons ahead in the 50th minute thanks to an assist from junior Lindsay McArdle.
The real hero of the game was sophomore goalkeeper Jantien Gunter. She was strong throughout the whole contest and shined late in the game by making two excellent saves to preserve the Dragons’ victory. Gunter earned her first career win in her first career start against a nationally ranked opponent — not bad.
Coming off such a strong win, Zelenak expressed concern that her team’s intensity may waver.
“It is a big concern that your team will take the next game lightly after winning versus a top team like Duke,” Zelenak said of her team. “As a coaching staff, we needed to remind them that with that awesome win, they are now the team that someone else wants to take down.”
Despite the pending concerns, the Dragons were ready for the challenge Aug. 26 against their second opponent, Rider University. With a concerted team effort that included effective passing, the team took down Rider 3-0.
Sophomore Christina Conrad put the Dragons ahead a little over seven minutes in, half thanks to a great pass from junior Elise DiDonato. The second goal came after halftime when McArdle slipped the ball past the Rider goalkeeper off a penalty corner. The final goal came when freshman Mary Lynam scored the first of her career for the Dragons almost 16 minutes into the second half.
The defense also had a strong performance, but once again it was Gunter who solidified the win by blocking all shots on goal. As a result of her two great performances, Gunter was named CAA co-Player of the Week.
Gunter’s performance came as no shock to Zelenak, who expected great things from her young goalkeeper.
“We are not surprised with Jantien’s performance,” Zelenak said. “She has been preparing the entire year to be able to represent Drexel, and she is pumped to show what she can do.”
The first two games of the season have shown that the Dragons can compete with anyone on any level. Now it becomes all about reliability, and Zelenak is well aware of that fact.
“As we move to our next game, we will continue to work on creating a higher level of play and consistency while increasing our fast-paced style,” Zelenak said. ”We also expect our players to be really excited for the opportunity to match up against another Philadelphia team.”
The Dragons are set to take on Saint Joseph’s University Aug. 31 at 3 p.m. on Hawk turf.