Although it is a conference comprised of just seven schools, the Colonial Athletic Association has proven itself a premier source of men’s lacrosse since its inaugural season in 2001. Following a 5-2 out-of-conference record, Drexel was looking right down the barrel of a grueling six-game conference schedule that would ultimately decide the fate of the season.
“We had some success early in the season in the nonconference schedule,” head coach Brian Voelker said. “But at [this point] we need to focus on six CAA games in a row.”
Through the first four games of the CAA schedule, the Dragons hold a 3-1 record against their conference foes and an 8-3 overall record. As of the April 8 vote, Drexel sits at No. 17 in the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association poll and at No. 18 in the Inside Lacrosse poll.
First up for the Dragons was No. 7 Hofstra University March 23 in Hempstead, N.Y. A week removed from a 14-11 win over Mount St. Mary’s University at Vidas Field, Drexel got out to a slow start against the Pride. After being down 4-1 at the end of the first quarter, the Dragons struck with back-to-back goals from junior midfielder Ben McIntosh and senior midfielder Aaron Prosser.
Drexel could not muster up much more offense through the third quarter, and the team faced a familiar three-goal deficit when Hofstra junior midfielder Drew Coholan scored with 5:29 remaining in the third quarter to put the Pride ahead 7-4. But the Dragons chipped away at the lead, and with 21 seconds left, sophomore midfielder Ryan Belka scored the game-tying goal to send the game into overtime at a score of 7-7.
The game was scoreless through two four-minute overtime periods, but Drexel began the third with a man-advantage opportunity after a slashing penalty by Hofstra senior defender Cody Solaja. Right at the 1:00 mark of the penalty, McIntosh fired home the game-winning goal, and the Dragons left Long Island with an 8-7 triple-overtime win to start off their CAA schedule.
“Defensively, Hofstra’s one of the best we will see all year,” Voelker said. “Things didn’t go our way [at first], but we kept at it and started the CAA schedule out right.”
Fresh off an emotional win and not having given up a goal in over 29 minutes, Drexel hosted Saint Joseph’s University March 27 at Vidas Field. The quick turnaround worked wonders for the Dragons, as they jumped on the Hawks and never looked back. Sophomore attack Mitch de Snoo scored his second goal of the game 1:47 into the fourth quarter to put Drexel up 14-0, a two-touchdown lead on their City 6 rivals.
By the time sophomore midfielder Michael Dougherty scored the Hawks’ first goal of the game with 12:15 remaining, the Dragons had extended their team scoreless streak to 77:14. With such a lopsided game, Voelker was able to get valuable playing time for some of his substitutes, and they took advantage in the 16-3 win.
“We are hoping we got some things figured out in the defensive end,” Voelker said. “At this level it’s difficult to defend, and we just had a stretch where we did a really good job.”
De Snoo added another goal in the fourth quarter to secure a hat trick, freshman attack Jules Raucci added a goal and two assists, freshman midfielder Hank Brown scored two goals, freshman midfielder Kris Franklin added a goal, and freshman midfielder Jordan Cunningham tallied two assists. It was quite a showing from Drexel’s young players, and it is vital to mention that all these points were the first of their careers.
But as the unusual suspects contributed, so did the usual cast of characters. McIntosh had two goals and two assists; sophomore attack Andrew Vivian added a goal and an assist; senior attack Robert Church notched two goals; and freshman attack Frank Fusco had a hat trick, his second of the season. Meanwhile, freshman goalie Cal Winkelman posted three scoreless quarters before being replaced by sophomore Dan Rodgers.
“Cal has done a really good job and played well for us,” Voelker said. “He’s a really hard worker and is the first guy to ask for extra shots and shooting drills [in practice].”
The Dragons’ next game was a matchup with the University of Delaware March 30 at Vidas Field, and it proved to be more of a typical performance from the team. McIntosh opened the scoring just 1:46 into the game, but the Blue Hens stormed right back and took a 6-2 lead into the locker room.
Following a goal 1:10 into the second half from Delaware senior midfielder Eric Smith to go ahead 7-2, the Dragons had had enough. Vivian got the comeback started with a goal on the man advantage, and the rest of the team followed suit. Drexel scored nine of the game’s final 12 goals and held on for an 11-10 win against the school’s biggest rival.
Prosser led the way with one goal and three assists for a total of four points after scoring seven points in the Dragons’ previous seven games combined. Church added a goal and an assist, while Belka and McIntosh each had two goals and one assist. Fusco continued his scoring pace, adding a goal and an assist of his own. For his performances against Delaware and St. Joe’s, Fusco earned CAA Rookie of the Week honors April 1.
“Frank has had a very good year so far productionwise and pointwise,” Voelker said. “He has had some big goals and a good feed on the game-winning goal [against Hofstra].”
With a full week to prepare for the team’s next opponent, The Pennsylvania State University, Drexel eyed a 4-0 start in CAA play for the first time since 2007. The Dragons traveled to State College, Pa., April 6 for a key matchup with the Nittany Lions. Belka opened the scoring only 44 seconds into the game, but senior attack Jack Forster responded with a natural hat trick to put Penn State ahead 3-1 with 16 seconds left in the first quarter.
Prosser and McIntosh each scored in the second quarter, with a Nittany Lions goal in between, and the two sides went into the locker room just one goal apart. The teams exchanged man-advantage goals at the beginning of the second half, but then the wheels fell off for Drexel. Penn State scored seven consecutive goals in a 10:59 span, and the Dragons fell behind 12-4 with 11:16 remaining in the game.
“We’ve been trying to get our guys to string together three or four quarters in a game,” Voelker said. “[Penn State is] really good, and we had a tough time because we didn’t put together a full game.”
Drexel added a hat-trick goal from Belka and a score from Fusco before the final horn sounded, and the team left the field with a disappointing 13-6 result. In a game that showed so much promise, the Dragons returned home with more questions than answers. They now get set to face the University of Massachusetts Amherst on the road April 13.
Will freshman goalie Will Gabrielsen return to the net now that he is healthy? How did a supposedly second-half team fall apart so quickly in the second half? Can the team return to the defensive ability it showed against Hofstra and St. Joe’s? These are questions that only Voelker and his players can answer with the team’s final road game of the season looming ahead.