Week 5 is a vital juncture in the life of any Drexel Student. Like a seemingly endless tide, evaluations in the form of midterms and papers take center stage as one is given a thorough working over to determine where exactly one stands. This by the numbers approach is an apt way as well to measure the progress that the Drexel women’s soccer program has made so far this season.
With a conference record of 3-3-2 at the close of the weekend, Drexel currently sits in seventh place in the Colonial Athletic Association standings with an 11-point haul that sets the program’s record for points in a conference schedule since the program entered the conference. Drexel’s success has been built on a defense that has accumulated six shutouts — fourth-best in the conference — and has conceded only 17 goals in 16 games played — third best goals-against statistic — in the CAA.
These numbers may be impressive so far, but the worry for the Dragons comes at the other end of the field, where their offence has only managed to score 13 goals in the same 16 games. That stat sees them drop to 11th place in the goals-scored rankings, trumped only by UNC Wilmington, which has only eight goals in 16 games. This is despite Drexel sitting in fourth place in the shots-on-goal statistics with an average of 14 shots on goal per game for the season. This inability to turn chances into goals has seen Drexel fail to score in eight of the 16 games that they have played this fall. And this despite losing only one of their conference games this year by more than one goal — 2-0 to William & Mary Oct. 7.
This inability to take advantage of the chances that they create almost returned to haunt Head Coach Ray Goon’s Dragons in an emotional weekend at the Vidas Athletic Complex.
The evening of Oct. 14 saw Drexel host James Madison, looking to snap a four-game losing streak that had seen Drexel fail to score in all but one of those matches. Buoyed by the opening of the Laura Meikle Koch locker room earlier in the evening, Drexel set about looking for that goal with a vibrancy that seems to imbue the side when they play at home.
The first half saw Drexel monopolize possession without really threatening to score, Jess Lowinger having the best of the chances for the home side when a speculative effort from distance nearly floated in over the head of Kate Courter in the JMU goal. Defense remained on top as Drexel limited JMU to only five shots on goal with freshman goalkeeper Eve Badana only required to make one save. Drexel went into the second half looking to get that vital goal and had a harder time of it in a second half that saw JMU slowly wrestle domination away from Drexel. The referee’s whistle for the end of the regulation would see the game still at a deadlock.
Fired up at the restart, Drexel made the better start of the first overtime period as their opponents started to tire. Jenna Lindsay came closest in the early exchanges when her goal-bound header flew just wide of the goal post. Lindsay would turn provider soon after when a mazy dribble saw her set up freshman forward Megan Hammaker at edge of the 18-yard box. Taking advantage of the space created by the retreating JMU defenders, Hammaker took a touch to settle the ball before smashing a shot into the top corner to put Drexel in the lead and end the match. It was Hammaker’s third goal of an impressive rookie season, and it was enough to give Drexel the win that keep them in the playoff hunt.
Onto Oct. 16 and Drexel’s last home game of the season, which doubled as their senior night. The Dragons bade farewell and thanks to five players — record scorer Lindsay, defender Rachel Sheridan, forward Ashley Klun, defender Sara Clair and the team’s tri-captain, defender Katie Duncan.
Sensing the enormity of the occasion and buoyed by an exuberant home crowd, Drexel started the game with an aggression and tempo that very quickly gave them the upper hand in a half that was filled with end-to-end action. Despite all the possession enjoyed by the home side, Virginia Commonwealth remained resolute in defense and restricted Drexel to only five shots on goal in the first half.
With the score still tied 0-0, Drexel knew they had to up the effort, and it was with a renewed sense of purpose that they took to the field for the start of the second half. With VCU tiring from having to play defensively for large parts of the game, space started to open up in the middle of the field. Sophomore midfielder Sam Greenfield nearly took advantage of that space when she cut inside her defender and lashed an effort goalward only to see it cannon off the crossbar and back into the goalkeeper’s hands.
Lowinger would have the next chance to break the stalemate with 20 minutes left in the game when she won possession back at the midfield line and raced on to goal. Her side-foot effort was saved comfortably, though, by VCU junior goalkeeper Kristen Carden.
With minutes left in regulation, VCU started to play their way into the game with Brazilian forward Azania looking particularly dangerous when in possession. Their resurgence nearly netted them a goal against the run of play when the referee pointed to the penalty spot after a clumsy foul in the 18-yard box by a Drexel defender. Meaghan Dullea stepped up to take it only to see it saved by Badana to maintain the shutout.
Overtime beckoned Drexel for the third time this season, and despite a more open game with chances for both sides, the final whistle would bring an end to the proceeding with neither side able to get the vital three points. Drexel’s best chance fell to Hammaker, whose curling effort from about 35 yards out clipped the outside of the post and rolled out of play.
A win and a draw saw Drexel round out their home schedule unbeaten with five wins and three draws. The weekend also saw keeper Badana’s recent good form recognized with a CAA rookie of the week award as she recorded her fifth clean sheet of the season.
The last three games of the season see Drexel take to the road as they look to make the jump from seventh into the playoff places and improve on an 0-7-1 record away from home. The first match for Goon’s side comes Oct. 21 against a Towson side that comes into the game with a 3-5 conference record that leaves them only a point behind Drexel in the standings. The second game of the weekend comes Oct. 23 and sees Drexel take on George Mason University, which sits only a point above Drexel in the standings.
With only four points separating second from 11th place and only William & Mary having already clinched a playoff berth, Drexel goes into a crucial run of fixture with their destiny firmly within their hands. Win all three games, and irrespective of how the other teams do, Drexel will be in the playoffs.
That’s easier said than done, but at this stage of the season, the only number worth keeping an eye on is in the win column.