Except for a few rare weeks out of every year, the University’s focus is not its sports teams. The school is preoccupied with keeping up with the quarter system, its wide-ranging engineering programs and finding co-ops for the next cycle.
But there were a few weeks this past academic year in which sports reigned supreme at 33rd and Market streets.
The campus was abuzz with anticipation in the week leading up to the men’s basketball team’s showdown with Arizona University at Madison Square Garden this past November. University City was painted navy and gold when the men’s lacrosse team toppled backyard rival University of Pennsylvania in the first round of the NCAA Tournament this May.
And, as summer quarter approaches and the Drexel Dragons have finally ceased participation until the fall, a proper sendoff is in order because, although the majority of the student body may have missed it, the Drexel athletics program had an overwhelmingly successful year.
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The string of successes began November 16 when the men’s soccer team won its first CAA tournament in program history.
Redshirt freshman Jameson Detweiler deposited the only marker in the entire 90 minutes, a subtle tap-in off of a corner kick set-up from Michele Pataia. The No. 1-seeded Dragons finally won the tournament that had eluded them for years.
“We’ve been dreaming about this moment for the past four years —it’s unbelievable,”senior defender Tal Bublil said as he cradled two trophies in his arms during the postgame celebration. “The boys played amazingly, we defended as 10 plus the goalie, and we attacked as a team. It was a group effort, just like it was all season.”
Though the Dragons fell in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and will lose a substantial amount of seniors, head coach Doug Hess is confident in his program’s future.
“A lot of people are like, ‘Oh, you’re losing all those guys, now what?’”he said in the days after the 5-1 defeat to Old Dominion University. “I still think, we lose all those guys, but I still believe we will be better. Part of that is the optimism of a coach —you have to believe that —but I feel like there’s going to be a new group that takes us to that next point.”
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Since 2011, the U.S. Open of Squash has been held at Drexel. President John A. Fry has a certain fascination with the sport and made it a priority to bring the event to University City just one year after arriving at the school. The partnership has brought world-class athletes to campus for the past three Octobers and will again this fall.
The school’s squash programs have taken off since being founded just three years ago — also the first time the U.S. Open visited Philadelphia. This year, the men’s squash team endured its ups and downs, finishing 11-11 overall for the first non-losing record in program history.
Piloted by John White, the team was subsequently named the Collegiate Squash Association’s most improved team of the season, and with 10 of the squad’s 13 athletes returning next year, the program will look to build on the successes of this season.
On the other side of the squash courts, the women’s team finished with the first winning record in program history at 11-10, a gigantic step forward from the 2-12 record the program endured just two years prior.
The Dragons actually finished ranked No. 14 in the country at the end of the season and return 11 of 13 athletes next season, positioning the team for another leap forward into the foray of competitive national women’s squash teams.
While not exactly a mainstream sport, squash is a high-energy, high-entertainment game. If the squash teams continue to show progress and begin to excel, the seats at the Kline & Specter Squash Center should start to fill up in no time.
It only takes one point of squash match to get hooked, and the rest is history.
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A less spectator-friendly collegiate sport is golf. The nation huddles around its collective televisions for one fateful weekend in early April to watch the best in the game of golf compete in the Masters at Augusta.
But college golf teams don’t have TV contracts. Sometimes they don’t even have sufficient live stats to keep track of your school’s progress —we’re looking at you, Navy Invitational.
That’s why we felt it so necessary to track the progress of the excellent season the Drexel golf team had this year, specifically sophomore standout Chris Crawford. Crawford won three total tournaments in the fall and spring seasons, including winning the Wildcat Invitational and Lafayette Invitational in back-to-back weeks, something no Drexel golfer has ever done.
The Triangle wrote a feature story on the humble, excellent Crawford and his studious approach to his favorite game, and will keep track of his playing this summer as he keeps competing in summer tournaments to maintain his level of play.
The golf team’s incoming recruiting class has head coach Mike Dynda and assistant coach Ben Feld extremely excited about the direction of the program. With such a young core, the team has nowhere to go but up in the coming years.
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The school said goodbye to a number of superstar seniors in men’s basketball players Frantz Massenat and Chris Fouch and men’s lacrosse players Ben McIntosh and Nick Trizano.
But a pair of equally superb players that may be overlooked in the Drexel sports landscape are wrestler Brandon Palik and women’s basketball player Fiona Flanagan.
Palik, one of the most storied wrestlers in school history, went 19-12 in his freshman year and earned two CAA Rookie of the Week awards. He followed that performance up by going 25-16 in his sophomore year, finishing second at the CAA Championships. And he capped his CAA legacy during his junior year by running up an unreal 26-6 record and capturing his first career CAA title, going undefeated in conference matches.
When the program moved to a new conference in the 2013-14 season, Palik met the challenge head-on, finishing the regular season as the No. 1-seeded wrestler in the 197-pound weight class before qualifying for the NCAA Tournament. It was a fittingly exceptional end to some of the most exceptional wrestling Drexel has ever seen.
And Flanagan, outfitted with a young supporting cast, played superb basketball for a fourth straight season en route to finishing her career as 40.8 percent three-point shooter, the best three-point shooter in Drexel women’s basketball history.
The Penn Valley native averaged 8.4 points and 5.9 rebounds per game in her final season as a Dragon, knocking down 36.4 percent of her attempts from downtown as the team made it to the second round of the CAA Championships before falling to eventual conference champions James Madison University.
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The school’s men’s basketball team was on national television more than a handful of times this past season. The men’s lacrosse team made it to the Elite 8. And, as a student body, it is right to celebrate the accomplishments of those two teams.
There are 18 separate varsity sports teams on Drexel’s campus. And when you take the time to notice every single one, you might just realize that the men and women you walk by outside of Main Building every day are the same ones that do amazing things on soccer fields and squash courts.
So, until next fall: Let’s Go Dragons!