Out-of-conference schedule is an important part of every college athletics program. Before games start to matter against conference opponents, teams face off against competition to get their squad ready to hopefully make a run when games count.
It’s often advantageous to make out-of-conference play as difficult as possible. It challenges the players and forces them to be at peak performance for the rest of the season. It appears that’s exactly how the Drexel University men’s lacrosse team approaches their schedule.
To start the 2015 season, the Dragons have played some stellar competition. They started the year off with a road loss against the University of Virginia and then came home to face off against the University at Albany and Villanova University Feb. 21 and 24, respectively. Those teams are respectively ranked No. 9, No. 2 and No. 14, according to the computer ratings of LaxPower.
The Dragons currently rank No. 24 in those same rankings. Their strength of schedule so far ranks second in the nation, only behind Georgetown University.
Perhaps predictably, the Dragons lost both of their games this week, falling to 0-3 on the season.
The first of the losses came to Albany Feb. 21 at home.
The game started well, with a Ryan Belka goal opening up the scoring and putting the Dragons up 1-0 a little over a minute into the game. It was pretty downhill from there, as Albany managed to string together a quick three-goal run to put them up by two. Their run was ended by a Cole-Shafer-assisted Mitch de Snoo goal, and the first period ended with the Dragons down by one.
The next quarter was basically all Albany in terms of scoring. They outscored the Dragons 4-1, and the Dragons never recovered.
Albany managed to score five more goals in the third, and the Dragons didn’t really have a chance from there.
The game ended with a somewhat misleadingly lopsided score, with Albany winning 15-8.
Albany may have outplayed the Dragons, but not by much throughout the field. The biggest difference was goalie play.
In the game, Drexel took 48 shots to Albany’s 40, and actually outshot them in both the second and third quarters, where Albany created and stretched their lead. Of the 48 shots, 24 were on target to Albany’s 25.
With those numbers, it seems unlikely that one team would win by seven, but Albany managed to do just that. The reason? Blaze Riorden. The Albany goalkeeper managed to save 16 shots in the victory, surely keeping this from being a much more interesting contest. Though it’s early in the season, Riorden is tied for second in the nation in saves per game, so his performance in the game against Drexel was and continues to be outlandish.
Will Gabrielsen, on the other hand, was not on his “A game.” He had 10 saves, but allowed 15 goals. Any time a team gives up 15 goals, regardless of offensive potency, odds are against them pulling out a victory.
The Dragons tried to stop their early season skid three days later against Villanova University.
With his rough start to the season, Gabrielsen has been thrown back into a possible goalie competition. He was once again sharing minutes with Cal Winkelman, who competed for the job last season as well.
Gabrielsen got the start in goal and it wasn’t a great one. In the first, he gave up four goals on four shots on goal.
Despite some great play by the offense, the Dragons still ended the first period down by a goal, looking to respond.
The second period was back and forth until Villanova’s Harry Dellafera snuck one by Gabrielsen, starting a 3-0 run for the Wildcats that gave them a four-goal advantage. Mason Pynn got on the board for the second time right before half for the Dragons, and they headed into the breakdown 7-4.
In the second half, it was Winkelman’s turn in net. He almost immediately gave up a goal to Nova’s Jack Curran, but performed well for the remainder of the quarter. He held the Wildcats to three goals in the period while the Dragons went on a run, scoring six to tie the game at 10 heading into the final period.
That was where the Dragons’ momentum would stop however, as Villanova would net four goals in the fourth to put the game away and capture a 14-11 victory.
Again, the Dragons outshot their opponent, this time by 10 shots, 44 to 34. They had more shots on goal (23 to 22) and won three times as many face-offs as Villanova. That should be a recipe for success, but the Dragons lost against because of poor defensive and goalie play.
To their credit, the defense is missing Matt Dusek, who was a main piece of their squad last year, and it could easily be taking them a few games to get it all together against very tough offensive competition. Going forward, it’s likely that the new guys will get acclimated and the goalie play will step up, and the Dragons will again be winning games.
They’ll look to do just that Feb. 28 at the University of Maryland.