The Drexel University field hockey team has had a roller-coaster ride of a season through the past10 games. After five consecutive wins to open the season, the Dragons dropped three in a row on the road, effectively losing any momentum they established early on. They returned to the friendly confines of Vidas Field for back-to-back home games against James Madison University and Virginia Commonwealth University Sept. 21 and 23, respectively. The short homestand proved to be a successful one, as the ladies won each game by a single goal.
The match against the JMU Dukes was particularly important because it meant the beginning of Colonial Athletic Association play. James Madison had a strong start to their season with a respectable 4-2 record coming into the game and showed their strength early on, jumping to a quick 1-0 lead in the 10th minute. Saskia Chelmowski scored the goal for the Dukes on an assist by teammate Dana Allaband. Despite going down by one in the opening minutes of the game, Drexel was not fazed and proceeded to play at a high level. The teams remained in a scoreless battle for the next 50 minutes, at which point Drexel senior midfielder Amanda Fleischut tied the game 1-1. Then, only four minutes later, Drexel sophomore forward Christina Conrad scored the go-ahead goal, which was assisted by Fleischut. Conrad’s 64th-minute goal would prove to be the game winner. Drexel head coach Denise Zelenak was very pleased with her team’s resolve after falling into an early deficit:
“Even though we didn’t score in the first half versus JMU, we created a lot of opportunities and played strong overall,” Zelenak said. “We came out of halftime translating our hard work and effort into goals, which helps build our confidence and reinforce our overall style of play.”
The Dragons carried that strong play and confidence into the second game of the weekend, a matchup with the then-undefeated VCU Rams (7-1). Prior to this season, VCU was a member of the CAA, but the school left for the Atlantic-10 Conference in May. Despite this match no longer being a conference game, both teams remained extremely competitive. Drexel junior forward Elise DiDonato acknowledged her team’s concentration going into the match:
“VCU is always a game our team gets excited for. Even though they left the CAA this year, we still treat them like a conference game mentally.”
From beginning to end, the game was fiercely contested by both teams. The Rams put heavy pressure on Drexel’s defense throughout the game, outshooting Drexel 16-11 with nine shots in the second half alone. VCU also attacked with 12 penalty corners, but Drexel sophomore goalkeeper Jantien Gunter stood tall. Zelenak emphasized the high speed of the match, commenting that both teams “played a fast-paced game and had very strong skill players. There were a lot of exciting moments. … It was a game of momentum.”
Soon after halftime, in the 43rd minute, the momentum swung in Drexel’s favor when DiDonato rebounded her own blocked shot and lifted it into the top-left corner of the cage, putting Drexel up 1-0. Despite an onslaught of VCU corners in the second half, the Dragons remained focused and were able to execute, turning away the Rams multiple times. Jantien Gunter headlined Drexel’s defense from the net, blocking every shot she faced and eventually sealing the shutout for her team. Zelenak was very impressed by her goalie’s performance in the win, describing Gunter as “definitely ‘in the zone’ on Sunday. You could easily see her amazing quickness and skill, coming up with nine legit saves for the team.” In the end, stellar goaltending coupled with a persistent, potent offense was a winning formula for Drexel.
The Dragons return to the field Sept. 28 at Towson University for their second CAA game of the season. They look to build on a two-game win streak and establish themselves as a top team in the conference. While the Towson Tigers (0-9, 0-1) have struggled mightily thus far, Zelenak’s team refuses to take them lightly. Expect Drexel to come out focused and excited to build on recent success during the game in Maryland.