From the Bleachers

From the Bleachers

 

 

 

Happy New Years Dragonlax fans!

            We are still riding the highs of 2014 and our first CAA Championship, NCAA birth, and First Round victory. The roar of the crowd in gold is etched in our collective memories forever and should be a confidence-builder for the upcoming 2015 season.

            Every team in every sport asks themselves the same question at the beginning of a season: Who will step up this year?

            When you lose two All-Americans to graduation as well as two of your three starters on defense that query is multiplied. If one of those departing is the #1 draft pick of a professional league then you warrant exponential anxiety.

            We are in an era where youth leagues have spawned a generation of excellent shooters, defenders, and confident players. There is depth as never before seen in college lacrosse, across the board. And our Drexel team is sitting in one of the most competitive leagues amidst the Colonial Athletic Association.

            But do not fret Dragonlax supporters! There is more to be optimistic about now than ever before. What will separate the good teams from the champions? We believe the answer lies in experience, confidence, possession, and goaltending.

            Experience: In short, we have been there, done that. Those of us who have been on the field or in the stands know that the difference over the past two seasons versus prior history has been winning close games. Where in the past the breaks only occasionally went our way (beating Notre Dame in OT in 2010, for instance), now it is common for the men in gold to come away with close victories (Triple OT win versus Penn State, CAA Semifinal versus Towson in OT, and CAA Final versus Hofstra again in triple OT, to name a few).

            Our starting lineup in 2015 returns 6 out of 10 starters. We have two All Americans returning in Captains Ryan Belka and Nick Saputo. These guys are not just great players but they are also leaders. No one would call them rah-rah types yet they carry the flag boldly. Like their Head Coach Brian Voelker, they let their playing do the talking. Belka has been a star since arriving on campus, selected Rookie-of-the-Year for the CAA as a freshman and now with a chance to be a rare two-time All American. Incredible to think that he is still underrated. Look for Belks to not only drive the offense, but also feed his teammates as the 2015 Offense evolves.  Belka figures the pair with the ankle breaking skills of junior Jules Raucci who stepped up big last year down the stretch and created opportunities not only for himself, but his linemates with his ability to create.  Raucci will definitely garner some more attention this year but as a former attackman, he seems comfortable dodging on a pole which will create nightmares for opposing defenses trying to figure out who not to pole.

            Cole Shafer is now a sophomore. On his resume is a 50-point season and game-winning goal in a first ever CAA title for his school. This guy has All-American potential written all over him. His experience will be critical as he gels with two new starters on Attack. New Offensive Coordinator Steven Boyle has his work cut out for him, yet he has experience as a player and coach to get the job done.

            Junior Miles Thomas was solid last season as a starter on D. He wasn’t flashy but was effective all year alongside two stellar senior defensemen. Miles is one who will need to take his game to a new level this year coming back with the most experience down low. Big Jake Kiernan played a lot and made major contributions. Now as a sophomore starter, Jake will be a key component of keeping opposing stars from getting near our net. Likewise, Paul Harrison must go from Man-Down to Close D seamlessly, perhaps taking on the role of enforcer every championship team needs without putting us in the penalty box while doing so. Another sophomore, Markel Nelson, played LSM well so far at a position we will need to replace groundball machines lost to graduation.

            Junior Hank Brown may be our X-Factor this season. We know Hank has a rocket shot and can blow by just about anyone with the ball in his stick, yet this guy simply has to put the ball in the back of the net to replace the dozens of midfield of goals gone to the pros.  He showed flashes down the stretch which will hopefully carry over into this year as someone needs to pick up where McIntosh left off.

            Confidence: Winning close games (8-3 in one-goal games in 2013-14 compared with 4-7 in 2011-12) saturates a program with mental toughness. Drexel doesn’t fear OT, we embrace it. We don’t get nervous as the game clock dwindles, we get psyched. Our Head Coach knows when to call a timeout to change momentum or personnel and puts our guys in the right place at the right time. Winning is contagious and we have the bug now.

            Possession: When talent can be found on every team from UVa, Maryland, and Albany to Towson, Hofstra, Villanova, Bryant, and now Fairfield, how do you separate yourself? You hold onto the ball, that’s how. There isn’t a beast more reliable than our guy at the Face-off X. Saputo may have become legendary in the NCAA win at Franklin Field, but believe it or not we will need even more from him in ’15. His backup Mike Barnes is out on IR, putting more pressure on our star and Co-Captain. This writer thinks Nick will welcome the challenge and dominate.

            The ringers we play, including a returning Tewaaraton winner, can’t score when they don’t have the ball. Nor can they make a run when we snag the ball back after they steal a goal from us. We don’t have time or space to give all the examples of top teams in America and their face-off studs. It’s a given. You gotta have one and we do.

            Goaltending: The Drexel lacrosse program has produced several All-Americans in the cage over the years. Now with a balanced team that can score and control the ball, having a clutch player in the net during this star-studded age of 90 mph shooters with accuracy, a time clock threat, and sticks themselves that hold the ball better, we will need our Netminder to be outstanding. Will Gabrielsen has a record of 16-5 as our starter. When Will plays, we win. His overtime saves against Hofstra, Penn State, and Towson were clutch. He was awesome against UPenn in the Big Show and yet he is perhaps the most underrated player in the CAA if not the country having made 186 saves last year (5th in D1). But making All-American and being a headliner is about what-have-you-done-for-me-lately combined with winning championships. Not that our smooth lefty needs more pressure as a Goalie, but for Drexel to remain a team in the hunt for another CAA ring and deep run in the NCAAs we’ll need Gabes to be among the best of the best.

            Even so, great goaltending includes great team defense. Defensive Coordinator Chris Collins plays a critical role in teaching the new starters on D and DMids to work as one, forcing snipers take shots they don’t like and causing turnovers that don’t always revolve around a save. Collins is yet another unsung hero from last season who must generate Herculean efforts from his Special Forces-like unit.

            Bottom Line; Yes, this is a new season with new players and new issues yet we have the building blocks with experience, confidence, possession, and goaltending on our side. We are the defending champions of the CAA and that in itself will bring an A-game from everyone we play. Who will take their game to the next level from the crew we know and who will come out of nowhere as freshmen or seniors and make an impact? Will it be the California Kids Michael Kay, Jacob O’Donnell, and Joe Rainoldi or Canadians Mitch de Snoo, Jordan Cunningham, and Mason Pynn as stars in 2015? We know Jordan Klunder and Matt Clark will bust butt as SSM, but will they find a way to get the ball in the net (by shot, feed, or ball-taxi) in critical situations when no one expects it? Will Frankie Fusco and Robert Frazee step up to finish with scouting reports blanketing Shafer week in and week out? It will be fun to watch and we are here to cheer them on all along the way.

We know what an epic season feels like. It feels great.

Let’s do it again.  The boys are back on the field against a team they ran off the field last May.  Scrimmage is set for 1pm at Vidas against UPenn.  Looking forward to seeing familiar faces the night before at the Kickoff Event at the Touchdown Club inside Lincoln Financial Field from 6pm to 9pm on 1/31.

           

Go Dragons!

- Anonymous Dragonlax Fan