From the Bleachers

From the Bleachers

 

 

 

From The Bleachers: Road to a Championship

            At the beginning of every year we look at our favorite team’s schedule and imagine how the season will play out. Based on past history, players graduating, injuries, and expectations, we dream of a winning season. We dream of championships.

            For three decades it has been just a dream for all but a small few. From 1978 to 2008 only Johns Hopkins, Syracuse, Princeton, and North Carolina won an NCAA Championship. That’s thirty years of just four teams starting the season with a realistic chance of going all the way.

            All that has changed in this modern era. In the last five years three titles have been won by Duke and Loyola (combined). New names and new first-time champions give hope to every team.

            Because this generation of players started earlier in youth leagues, were coached by men who actually played versus well meaning football coaches who found an affinity for our sport, the depth of talent nationally has boomed. There has never been so much talent, so deep, on so many teams. Division 1 Men’s Lacrosse now has 67 teams (up a dozen in the last decade) and as seen on a weekly basis, just about anybody can beat anybody. Example: Wagner, the #67 ranked team today beat VMI who beat Air Force who beat Fairfield who beat Yale who beat Princeton who beat Hofstra who beat Cornell who beat Virginia who beat #1 Loyola. Seven degrees of separation Kevin Bacon would understand.

            Teams on the rise like Drexel and High Point shine a light on the future of our sport. Drexel plays a far more difficult schedule, in a brutal conference, yet the way High Point played UNC this past weekend shows the gap narrows every game.

            Drexel won an enormous game on Saturday night in Maryland against the defending CAA Champions. The atmosphere was electric. Johnny Unitas Stadium was packed with locals and lax kids in droves. There was even a Jumbotron instant-replay screen and a shot clock (for next year when they change the rules to 60 seconds). Dragon parents, sisters and brothers, grandparents, and friends eager to see their team continue a quest for a conference title cheered their guts out.

            From the bleachers we witnessed boys become men this season, never more so than on Saturday night. Freshmen who are playing in their first game are still freshmen, but the name freshman next to a player’s name who is playing in their thirteenth D1 game is a seasoned veteran, especially if said player has scored so many goals and passed out so many assists he has drawn the attention of every coach who has seen film of Drexel.  Despite the attention, our crafty Attackman from Canada named Cole Shafer dodged and wove his way to the goal to rip uppers and pluck corners 5 times against the Towson Tigers.

            Sophomore Hank Brown got his first goal of the season and it couldn’t have come at a better time as we ramp up for High Point and a CAA Semifinal within the next week. Just like sophomores Miles Thomas and Jules Raucci, who are playing their best ball of 2014, we need the underclassmen to shine at crunch time. “Big Ben” McIntosh is finally getting the kudos he deserves, and the attention of every defense. When he passes the ball to our—what has become—arsenal of talent, it only makes the Dragons more fearsome.

            Nick Saputo, a junior, lays it all on the line every face off. He is currently ranks #6 nationally in both face off percentage (64%) and ground balls (124). His determination is contagious. And how could the team not be inspired by the play of sophomore Goalie Will Gabrielsen on Saturday night? Will not only made 11 official saves and picked up 2 key ground balls, drew a penalty, and stuffed several point blank shots, he also got his face mask broken by a rocket shot, staggered for “a standing 8 count”, gathered his senses on the sideline, and returned to make a save with 2 seconds to go in the third quarter and another 3 saves in the clutch fourth quarter as Towson attempted to muster a comeback.

            That maturity by Shafer, determination by Saputo, and toughness by Gabrielsen needs to transcend to the field in North Carolina this Friday night against a very good High Point squad. In only their second season as a Division 1 program, High Point sit atop the Atlantic Sun Conference eager to earn a AQ trip to the Big Dance. Their last game they played UNC even for three quarters and fell 12-8, more than a respectable score. They have seen very solid play at face off, attack, and the goalie positions all season. High Point is tough to beat at home (5-2) and overall (8-5).

            Every possession will be valuable for our Dragons to win. Each ground ball, save, face off, or time out that puts the ball back in the hands of Nick Trizano (another hat trick against Towson) and Jared Boudreau’s (1 goal, 1 assist Saturday night) will matter.  On Saturday Mason Pynn, our bull at Short Stick Middie (SSM), gathered a ground ball late in the third quarter with the score 9-5. He was clearly getting pushed out of bounds but the referee did not have his hand on his pocket to pull a flag. Coach Voelker saw this and quickly called a timeout before Pynn went flying out of bounds. Instead of Towson having a chance to make it a 9-6 game, we held onto the ball and converted the timeout into money to stretch the lead to 10-5 and take the wind out of the home team, and their crowd’s, sails.     

            If Loyola, Duke, Penn, and Denver win Patriot, ACC, Ivy League, and Big East titles, respectively, those four will not need At Large bids. The eight At Large guarantees look like Johns Hopkins, Maryland, Syracuse, UVa, Cornell, Yale, UNC, and who? Hofstra or Drexel. But that’s only if all the above teams win their conferences (no exceptions) and if Yale beats Harvard and if Harvard loses their first round Ivy Tournament game and if Army beats Notre Dame (if ND doesn’t get to .500), and if Fairfield loses to Ohio State. All that, and if we beat High Point the door to an At Large bid cracks open for Drexel. Are you kidding me? Way too many Ifs!

            The simple and straight road: beat High Point, win Semi and Final of CAA Playoffs.

            Three wins from a CAA Championship. Seven from an NCAA Championship. Again, it all starts with 1 game, packed with The Fire, grit, toughness, and relentless sheer will of not being denied.

            No math. No ifs. Just results. And with it a dream come true; a Championship for Drexel.

- Anonymous Dragonlax Fan