M. lacrosse tops No. 14 UMass | The Triangle

M. lacrosse tops No. 14 UMass

Junior midfielder Nick Saputo, No. 16, possesses the ball earlier this season in an 18-12 victory over Robert Morris University March 1. Saputo and the Dragons have won four straight after Saturday’s 13-9 victory over University of Massachusetts. (Miranda Shroyer)
Junior midfielder Nick Saputo, No. 16, possesses the ball earlier this season in an 18-12 victory over Robert Morris University March 1. Saputo and the Dragons have won four straight after Saturday’s 13-9 victory over University of Massachusetts. (Miranda Shroyer)

In the 2011 season, the Drexel University men’s lacrosse team fell short of a berth in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament.

In 2012, the Dragons made it to the finals of the CAA tournament before falling to the University of Massachusetts.

In last year’s campaign, the team once again made the CAA tournament, only to fall to Towson University in the semifinals.

The players present for all three of those crusades include seniors Ben McIntosh, Nick Trizano, Jared Boudreau, Matt Dusek and Mitch de Snoo, and they couldn’t be hungrier for a chance to improve on their already storied past with the Drexel program.

On April 12, their Senior Day, they made that hunger evident, topping CAA rival No. 14 UMass 13-9.

But the stakes were actually larger than simply clinching a spot in the CAA tournament. Senior Day is traditionally the last game that the seniors will play on their home field, but the team desperately wanted to make sure that wasn’t the case this year. The Dragons entered the game just one game back from the No. 1 seed in the CAA tournament, a position that guarantees a home playoff game.

A win against UMass would keep them in the race for the top seed, while a loss would ruin their chances.

Sports, by nature, present reciprocity between athletes and spectators that motivates both to give their all. Athletes thrive off the energy provided by their supporters, while pride and enthusiasm inspire fans to show up in droves and support their team wholeheartedly.

With a loss in the game against UMass, they wouldn’t be eliminated from playoff contention. On the contrary, they still would have a very good chance to make it. The ultimate prize at stake was giving the seniors the chance to play at least one more time at home.

And the team—specifically the seniors— played like they had everything to lose.

Drexel came out in the first quarter and put up a 5-3 lead, including three goals in a key two-minute stretch, one each from sophomore Jules Raucci, freshman Joseph Rainoldi and freshman Cole Shafer.

But the Minutemen came out shooting in the second quarter and quickly brought the game to a draw with 11 minutes remaining in the half.

Unsurprisingly, the Dragons responded with a strong effort from their seniors.

Following a faceoff, the Dragons controlled the ball for the entire next minute before McIntosh buried a shot in the back of the net. Later in the quarter, a forced turnover by the defensive captain, Dusek, led to a transition goal by junior Ryan Belka to extend the lead to two. A minute later, a penalty against Kyle Karaska of UMass gave the Dragons a man-up opportunity that was quickly capitalized on by Trizano.

An unfortunate turnover by Shafer allowed UMass to score with fewer than 30 seconds remaining in the half to cut the gap to two, but the Dragons went into the locker room with their heads held high.

The third quarter, however, swung heavily in favor of the Minutemen. A quick goal by UMass cut the lead to one and it looked as though they might be able to overtake the home team. But the Drexel defense, led by Dusek and sophomore goaltender Will Gabrielsen, contained the onslaught by the UMass offense and managed to hold the scoring to a single goal for the entire quarter.

The main issue with the third quarter was offensive sloppiness on the Dragons’side. Rampant turnovers and an inability to maintain possession allowed UMass to claw their way back into the game.

The Dragons promptly squashed these problems in the fourth quarter.

They controlled the game for the entire fourth quarter and outscored UMass 5-2 en route to a 13-9 victory. They were aggressive, careful with the ball, caused turnovers and disrupted the game plan of the Minutemen, dominating the entire final quarter.

Essentially, the Dragons played how a playoff team plays: calm, resilient and strong.

That style of play and mental fortitude doesn’t just happen. It comes from the coaching staff and the seniors pushing everyone to stay focused and get better each day. When asked about the seniors and the importance of getting them one more home game, head coach Brian Voelker noted that it was a focal point for the team.

“We preached all week that we don’t want this to be the seniors’ last game on this field,”Voelker said. “The only way to do that was to win this one. These seniors have been with me all four years, and they’re a really special group.”

On April 12, they played like a special group. The defense was swarming, the goalie play was spectacular and, most importantly, they refused to give up when things went poorly.

After the game, an exhilarated McIntosh commented on his feelings on the course of the team, his time at Drexel and Voelker in particular.

“This senior class is incredible,”the senior said. “We have a lot of great leadership on this team and some great guys causing our success and we’re getting hot at the right time, which is really what matters. I’m excited to see if we can keep it rolling.

McIntosh continued, “We want to be the first team to make the [National Collegiate Athletic Association] Tournament and get Drexel on the map and show what we can do. Coach Voelker is great, he can be calm at times, he can be firm at times, but he’s great, and he’s the real leader of this team. He’s got a lot of respect from his players, and that’s a big compliment.”

This senior class has given their all for four years under Voelker, and they are as poised as they’ve ever been to make a run deep into the postseason. They stand at 8-4 overall, good for second place in the conference.

The Dragons play at CAA rival Towson April 19.