One week from today, the Drexel men’s soccer team will begin the 2013 campaign with the highest expectations the program has seen in a long time. It will take an extraordinary effort from the Dragons in order to defend their regular-season Colonial Athletic Association title, but head coach Doug Hess is confident that his team has what it takes.
“We’re a deeper team and we’re a better team because of the experiences we have,” Hess said confidently, referencing the highs and lows of the team during his three-year tenure at Drexel. “I think it will be fun to watch it unfold.”
Many would consider last season a success for the Dragons, as they finished with a 12-4-3 record, including an 8-1-1 mark in CAA play. However, Drexel went 0-2 in postseason play, losing to Hofstra University in penalty kicks as the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament and as the host team in the first round of the NCAA Tournament against Brown University by a score of 2-0.
How will the Dragons’ success be measured this season? Hess explained that the answer is not so cut-and-dry.
“We’re trying to get our guys to understand that success for us … is the process,” he said. “In the process of building toward success, we want to get better at knowing and doing what we do to have success.”
Hess listed some of these attributes, like the understanding of the game and growing in the game physically. But most importantly, he said, has been the dedication of the program and the players to improved fitness.
Since he arrived at Drexel in 2010, Hess has stressed the importance of being a physically fit team. By instituting a fitness program that tracks progress during the offseason, his players have been able to buy into the fact that strength and endurance are key components to how Hess wants the Dragons to play the game.
Along with being superior physical specimens, the coach wants Drexel to play as a supremely selfless unit on the field. Hess admitted that his ideal type of play is dependent on the ability of the team to share the ball.
“As long as we can buy into [being unselfish] and not be so worried about who gets the credit, we’re [going to] accomplish a lot of things,” Hess said. “I think the more we recognize that and live that, the better we will be.”
One of the reasons Hess believes that his team has bought into this thought process is the closeness of the Dragons. Drexel lists a roster of 27 players, including nine newcomers, but the coach described the group as “tight” even though they have not been together for very long.
The team has nine senior leaders, but three players in particular will lead this cohesive unit as the season begins. Defender and team captain Tal Bublil, midfielder Ken Tribbett and forward Nathan Page were all named to the Preseason All-CAA Team, as voted on by coaches within the conference.
Page, who led the team with nine goals last season, was tabbed as the CAA Preseason Player of the Year, the first Dragon ever to earn the honor. But even though Hess admitted that it is a big step forward for the program, there is still plenty of soccer yet to be played before anything is actually determined.
“Preseason teams are great, but postseason teams are what matter in the end,” he said. “It means that our opponents are aware of our team and we’re not going to sneak up on anyone this year.”
Northeastern University was picked as the top team in the CAA preseason poll, with Drexel in second place. Hess said he felt this was appropriate, considering that the Huskies have defeated the Dragons four consecutive times; you have to beat the best to be the best.
It is with that same reasoning that Hess organized the nonconference schedule. First up for Drexel is Farleigh Dickinson University, a team that advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament last season. Some other opponents in the first month of the season include Rutgers University, Seton Hall University, Stony Brook University and La Salle University.
“We have a lot of tests as we get through September,” Hess said. “Going into the opening game, we’re [going to] have a good idea of who we are, and the first one is a good test.”
With expectations through the roof, look for Drexel to face every one of its challenges head-on. This fall, the spotlight will surely shine on Vidas Field, and the Dragons will have bull’s-eyes on their backs; Hess and his confident crew would not have it any other way.