The Drexel field hockey team will host this year’s Colonial Athletic Association Tournament as the top seed, earning them a first-round bye. The Dragons will face the winner of the University of Delaware-College of William & Mary match Nov. 3. Drexel finished the season with a 13-6 record overall and a 5-2 record within the CAA.
The No. 18 Dragons bounced back after a disappointing loss to the University of Delaware (7-11, 3-4 CAA) by running the table against two formidable opponents. First, the Dragons defeated No. 10 Northeastern University (13-5, 5-2 CAA) Oct. 26 in a close 1-0 decision. Drexel then traveled to Hempstead, N.Y., and took care of rival Hofstra University (7-11, 1-6 CAA) 3-1 Oct. 28.
On Senior Day, the Dragons honored their only senior, midfielder Amanda Fleischut, in her last regular season home game. The celebration of Fleischut’s career at Drexel gave the Dragons an extra emotional boost against a tough Huskies team.
“The stars were aligned, there was almost a full moon; I don’t know what else you could say — Amanda Day?” head coach Denise Zelenak laughed. “[The team] loves her, [and] she loves them. … To be able to host for that event, there’s only positive energy in the air for that.”
Regardless of the swirling emotions, Drexel got off to a slow start against Northeastern. The Dragons were unable to get a shot until 20 minutes into the first half, while Northeastern had five shots and four penalty corners in that time. Sophomore goaltender Jantien Gunter stood on her head during that 20-minute period, making three saves to keep the Dragons in the game. The rest of the first half continued to play in the Huskies’ favor as they amassed nine shots and seven penalty corners. Gunter had to make a total of seven saves just in the first half, which ultimately saved the game for the Dragons.
The Dragons opened the second half with some pressure, but they were unable to capitalize on their early chances. Ten minutes into the half, Northeastern’s Deirdre Duke was able to squeak through the Dragons defense for an open shot, which was saved by Gunter with a sliding effort. With the score still tied 0-0 with 19 minutes remaining in the game, the Huskies committed a penalty in the circle, resulting in a penalty stroke opportunity for the Dragons. Freshman back Lauren Hibshman took the stroke and converted for her first goal of her collegiate career to put the Dragons ahead 1-0. The Huskies kept the pressure on for the rest of the game but couldn’t convert with a goal, leading to a win for Drexel. The shutout of the No. 10 team in the nation was Gunter’s sixth of the season, one less than the single-season Drexel record of seven set by Heather Haigh in 1998.
“They brought it,” Zelenak said of her team. “Everybody played their best game. … [Gunter] had probably the best game I’ve seen her have all season — definitely earned her sixth shutout, there’s no question.”
Zelenak praised her team’s ability to shut down Northeastern’s Crystal Poland. Poland scored 61 points on the season and was named the CAA Player of the Year.
“Being able to stop [Poland] without changing our formation or trading a player to try to cancel her out was the risk,” Zelenak said. “[The team] embraced it.”
The Dragons traveled to play Hofstra for their final game of the season. The game started with an even showing from both sides. Both teams had their share of shots in the opening half, but it was Drexel that got on the board first. Drexel’s leading goal scorer, junior midfielder Lindsay McArdle, scored 26 minutes into the first half. McArdle gathered her own rebound and flipped it over Pride goalie Kaitlyn De Turo to give the Dragons a 1-0 lead heading into the second half.
Two minutes into the second half, McArdle struck again. Junior forward Elise DiDonato sent a pass through the middle to McArdle, who tipped in the ball to widen the Dragons’ lead to 2-0. Two minutes later, Hofstra finally got on the board with a tip-in of their own by Codi Nyland. The Pride kept the pressure on the Dragons after their goal but couldn’t capitalize, as Gunter continuously shut the door. With 23 minutes remaining in the game, Fleischut scored the goal that would seal the game. The goal was an open-field shot off penalty corner to put the Dragons ahead 3-1. After the goal, the Dragons clamped down defensively to preserve the 3-1 win.
Looking ahead to the CAA Tournament, the Dragons have earned a bye in the first round, giving them a slight edge on whomever they play in the semifinal round.
“The thing that [the bye] gives us is, it doesn’t give the team that we play a rest,” Zelenak said.
In addition, if Drexel wins that first game, there’s a chance that they will play a team that hasn’t had a day off in three days.
Zelenak welcomes the possibility to play Delaware in the semifinals even though the Dragons lost to them just a week ago.
“That one kind of left a bad taste in our mouth,” Zelenak said. “To sit here and say we have a chance to play a team … It’s something that we want to go after.”
But Zelenak isn’t banking on playing Delaware. William & Mary has had a very strong end to its season, most notably in its final game against Old Dominion University. The Tribe took the No. 8 Monarchs into overtime but ultimately lost.
Even though Old Dominion finished the season with a clean 7-0 sweep of the CAA, they are not eligible for the CAA Tournament due to their impending move to Conference USA.
As a side note, heading into the championship weekend, five Dragons were named to the CAA All-Conference team Oct. 31. Fleischut and McArdle were named First Team All-CAA. Hibshman, Danielle Grassi and Jenna Knouse were all named to the All-Rookie team, while Hibshman also received Second Team All-CAA honors.