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

From the Bleachers 

 

 

 

 

 

From the Bleachers: An Epic Year

 

            The roar of the crowd after Drexel’s first goal in the 2014 NCAA Quarterfinal game on Sunday will be a memory no Dragon player or fan will ever forget. And the second goal for our Dragonlaxers turned up the volume another decibel to near frenzied heights. We were on the big stage at the Big Dance and we came to play. The announcers on ESPN said exactly that, and for a moment there the Denver Pioneers wondered if their well-oiled machine of a lacrosse team was about to be dismantled by these emotional upstarts from West Philly.

            How appropriate for Big Ben McIntosh to be the one to erupt the sea of gold on that initial score. The senior from Coquitlam, British Columbia blossomed as a player and leader over his career in University City, carrying our hopes and dreams on his broad shoulders to a mountaintop never climbed in the 72-year history of Men’s Lacrosse at Drexel University. Big Ben would add another tally before the day ended, finishing a legendary career with 100 goals, breaking the All Time Drexel Single Season Goals record with 48 goals to go with his 17 assist to account for 65 points. McIntosh’s 48 goals led the entire Division 1 ranks among Midfielders.  

            It was Jules Raucci who ripped a shot past the Denver goalkeeper to make it 2-0 after a Will Gabrielsen save, and we all thought Cinderella pushed her foot in the tiny glass slipper.

            But Denver was vying for a Final Four spot for the third time in four years for a reason. Although clearly rattled, and according to their iconic Coach Bill Tierney who said we were “bigger and faster than they (Drexel) looked on film”, the Pioneers settled down and went to work like a serial killer in a movie. They stalked their prey, methodically preparing for the precise place and moment, and then they quietly sliced and diced their victim. It ended in a bloody conclusion. “It was the best quarter we played all season,” Tierney admitted after the game.

            We did get a Nick Trizano goal to take the lead with 5:35 left in the first quarter to make it 3-2, but Denver did to us what we did to Penn the prior week by controlling the dot and time of possession allowing for more opportunities to capitalize on mistakes. By the time we scored again with 6:12 to go it was the third quarter and the Pioneers had rattled off ten straight goals in the meantime. To win against a deep and talented squad as the underdog you must play an almost perfect game, and on this day we did not. But we learned what it would take to get to Championship Weekend. Our underclassmen and rising seniors now have experience playing in front of 7,222 fans and a national television audience. Learning first hand how to handle adversity like poor officiating, the value of cherishing the rock, and avoiding penalties will bode well in the years to come. Sports can be a brutal instructor, yet reality does not lie. How we grow from this particular game is the only question that remains. The fact is we were a single victory away from making it to the Final Four and three wins from being crowned National Champion. That is not debatable.

            Playoff wins and Championships in sports are what we all strive for. The thrill of tossing equipment and piling up in front of the cameras is a dream for all players. Drexel now knows that feeling after our first CAA Championship title. That can never be taken away.

            Our victory at Franklin Field in the NCAA Tournament First Round, the unofficial Philadelphia City Championship, will remain a glorious and lasting memory. 22 teams have played a combined 41 games in the history of the NCAA playoffs and never made it to the Quarterfinals. What we did on our first trip to the NCAAs was remarkable.

            Like the other unranked teams in the NCAA Quarterfinals of 2014, Drexel rode home disappointed alongside Albany, Bryant, and Johns Hopkins. Not bad company. Indeed, the teams that went down this past weekend all were winners who made their programs—new and storied—proud. The glass slipper would have to wait another year.

            For our Dragonlaxers this season was one of hope and accomplishment. The dawn of a new era in D1 lax is upon us, with new-fangled teams and fresh faces changing the landscape as never before. Drexel is a poster child for teams on the rise. Anyone can beat anyone on a given day never rang so true. “Intensity has to be kept for 60 minutes—and beyond—or you will not become a champion,” is the message. Our 7-3 record in games decided by 3 goals or less show we have turned the corner, and our 3 wins out of 4 performances in overtime games prove we have grasped the “and beyond” 60 minute part of that equation as well.

            Senior Captains Ben McIntosh and Jason Klunder left the program in better shape than it has ever been. We will sorely miss fellow seniors Tyler Houchins and Matt Dusek on the defensive end. They have set the bar when it comes to toughness and ball hawking ability. How many times did T$ shut down a top scorer? Duce managed to snatch so many key ground balls in titanium traffic he received First Team CAA honors.

            We thank Deven Thomas for his hard work on the face off dot and carrying the Drexel flag onto the field with The Fire of a dragon. It will be tough to replace our seniors at the Attack position, both of whom fought adversity to prove quitting isn’t an option, one who battled perception and the other injury. Jared Boudreau didn’t listen to the doubters who said an undersized kid from Vermont couldn’t make it in Division 1 on a Top 20 team. Instead, Vermont fought for an opportunity that didn’t come until his senior year, yet when he finally made in onto the field he became an instrumental part of a championship roster creating 32 points on 18 goals and 14 assists. His rip over Penn’s highly touted goalie in the NCAAs left an indelible mark on our team’s history. And Nick Trizano sacrificed his body on just about all of his 54 points this year, diving into traffic, backing into crosschecks, and bulling over much larger defensemen. Triz’s 40 goals all mattered, and seemed to spark our team when we needed them most. His First Team CAA selection was made the old fashion way, he earned it. Yes, we will miss those guys and thank them for their undying efforts.

            Indeed, you seven seniors will leave West Philly with CAA Championship rings on your fingers and the gratitude of all who followed you this year and for your entire careers. Thank you all.

            We also need to acknowledge the other guys on the sideline who made a huge difference in this squad going from contender to champion, our coaches. Head Coach Brian Voelker arrived in West Philly and was already a winner. Voelks was a three time All American as a player at Johns Hopkins, of course, and won two World Championships playing for Team USA, three indoor professional championships with our Philadelphia Wings, was an NCAA champion as an assistant at Princeton University, and won an outdoor pro championship as coach of the Baltimore Bayhawks. This guy knows how to get the job done and win. This season his timeouts to save critical possessions, his personnel adjustments, pregame preparation, and never-ending recruiting, all came full circle to reward him and all of us who follow Dragonlax. Coach rarely smiles and doesn’t say much, so when he was doused with icy water from the Gatorade bucket after his first NCAA victory as a coach we knew something special happened when he lit up.

            Under the radar was offensive genius Connor Ford who took our men to near 12 goals per game, making us a nightmare to play every week. We outscored Albany for crying out loud! And defensive coordinator Chris Collins brought the best out of our Keeper, helping Gabrielsen finish the season #5 in the country for total saves (186). Kevin Stockel was our Volunteer Assistant Coach whose positive attitude and willingness to do whatever was needed to win must be recognized. Thank you coaches.

            True, this website is alumni based and sponsored, but as a non-alum I can say it was a delight to see the spirit and passion of former players begin long before games and last long after they were finished. Every contest mattered and they wore each victory, and suffered the few defeats, as though they were still on the field themselves. That is what being a true alumni means—caring. Thank you alumni.

            As far as the administration at Drexel, this year’s team awoke a sleeping giant and before we could say “NCAA here we come!” we had cheerleaders, a mascot, free busses, tickets, a band, and the president of the university at our games. Winning is contagious and this will only bode well for Drexel in the future. Thank you for the support DU.

            Speaking of the future, imagine what that win against Penn on national television did for our recruiting from east to west on the Canadian border north and south. We are no longer a very good team no one knows about. The good news is the calls will start coming in and not only going out. Selling Drexel will be never be a tough as it used to be. The bad news is the CAA, and everyone on our schedule, knows we are a beast-of-a-program on the rise. Every team we play next year will come in thinking it is a “Game-of-the-Year” contest. A luxury problem we welcome.

            Yes, our future is very bright. We have midfielder Ryan Belka returning as a senior after a 25 goal, 21 assist, and First Team CAA campaign. Belks will be joined by linemate Jules Raucci, only a sophomore this past year who scored 16 goals and had 8 assists, with arguably the best first-step separation move in college lacrosse today. Mitch de Snoo, the hero of our triple OT victory against Penn State, returns as do fellow bull studs Mason Pynn, Hank Brown, and Matt Clark. On defense we get Paul Harrison back for a final year to run with Miles Thomas, Jake Kiernan, Markel Nelson, Jordan Klunder, and Jake Gennosa. We wonder whether Kiernan will shave Mohawks on all the D next season to make them as fearsome as he was this year. Thomas is as solid as rock and Nelson made the CAA All Rookie Team. We don’t know whether Frank Fusco, Chris Frederick, Joe Rainoldi, Pat Root, Nick Valentino, Cliff Simeon, Chris Panichelli, Jordan Cunningham, and TJ Foley will be role players or stars next year, but we have seen them play and know they all have potential to shine. The Redshirt and incoming freshman add an element of surprise, and if we didn’t learn in 2014 that they can be the difference between a championship or not then just remember playing under the lights at Hempstead as ask yourself who scored the winning goal to clinch our title.

            Belka is a legitimate All American candidate, and those mentioned above will be instrumental in supporting Belks as we move on to 2015. But don’t forget we still have other All American caliber players in Nick Saputo, Cole Shafer, and Will Gabrielsen returning. This is a core of budding superstars at both ends of the field, and in the middle, which make Drexel a team whose best days, believe it or not, are yet ahead.

            Before we move on, however, let’s relish in some of the 2014 highlights, of which there were many, like the aforementioned shot by Shafter to win it all at Hofstra. That whole game was a highlight reel (and you can see it on Lax.com anytime you want!). The come-from-behind fourth quarter, huge save by our goalie in double OT, and dog pile of gold jerseys gives me Goosebumps every time. Think about it: Drexel won the CAA Championship in triple overtime under the lights at Hofstra for our first birth in the NCAA tourney. Epic stuff.

            And how about the double pick play Belks turned into money against Towson in the semis? A play that wouldn’t have come about if the clock didn’t strike midnight thanks to Big Ben who willed his way to the goal to force extra time and a friendly crossbar reminding us that destiny played a role in that thriller. But there was nothing to compare to Saputo winning 19 out of 22 face-offs in that playoff contest.

            We won against what many are now calling the greatest attack unit who ever played the sport, Albany’s Thompson Trio. 16 saves and a bend-but-don’t-break defense plus a relentless offense by Drexel spelled victory in an away February game that set the tone for the entire year.

            Highlights like the bomb assist by Gabes to Shafer against St. Johns are etched in our minds. The total team effort against UMass when that was the biggest game of the season (at the point) must be noted. Same could be said of the regular season win at Towson at Johnny Unitas Stadium when our guys stepped up to exact revenge from last year’s playoff loss. And why not throw in the win at Delaware in a monsoon when we needed to win to clinch home field for the semifinals? Beating Penn State in triple OT goes without saying.

            Those highlights were plenty and yet only rabid Dragonlax fans witnessed them all. Not so when ESPN rolled in their trucks and several thousand more showed up live at Franklin Field for the NCAAs. The nuclear annihilation by Saputo in a matter of seconds to end the first half may someday become a verb, “That guy pulled a Saputo,” meaning he took a face off and went unstoppable Berserker to the cage in a matter of seconds.

            Actually, that whole Penn game can be considered a highlight, with Vermont nailing those rips, Jules leaving defensemen whiffing and jamming the ball into the cage, Triz diving into Quakers as he scored, Big Ben setting records, T$ crushing dudes, Belks in transition igniting the roaring crowd as he nails an upper, and Gabes standing on his head making one point blank stuff after another to the delight of his teammates and all who watched that day (and the TiVoed replays seen over and over by our fans).

            Sports are life through a clearer lens. When things are not going right in life it is sometimes hard to put your finger on why. Not so on a playing fields. Emotions are clear, actions are seen, and lessons are learned among the brotherhood of your teammates. Adversity being overcome by working together is what we hope to take into our daily lives. We keep score in life with money, titles, accomplishments, and materialism for the most part. It’s difficult to measure love. But on a team there is actually a numerical score to measure how you are doing. And the love of your team and the players among themselves is quantifiable beyond metrics.

            You know you have had a fantastic year when there are so many highlights you cannot remember them all. And yet also among the lasting photos in our mind’s eye will be the scene at the tailgates as they expanded weekly from parents and sisters (always represented at every game) and alumni to grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, former coaches, administration officials, and friends. Words cannot truly describe how we bonded on and off the field. We are family now as never before at Drexel. And as a family we will be there for each other on life’s journey no matter where it takes us and for how long. Winning does that to a team and a community like no other remedy.

            So while the officials may have made a mess of the quarterfinals, and our team did not go to the Final Four, we still have 2014 etched into our collective souls as one of a championship season on a whole new level, one that will never be forgotten. This season has set the bar for all Dragonlaxers from this day forward.

            Thank you and congratulations dear players, coaches, fans, and alumni for these priceless memories and meanings of life. Be proud, have a great summer, and be prepared for another epic adventure in 2015 and beyond.

- Anonymous Dragonlax Fan

 

Thanks to everyone who made this such a special year - the players, the parents, alumni, our sponsors, the athletic department, opposing team's fans, anyone and everyone who attended one of our tailgates - this season will go down in history.  We'll be rolling out the final list of all those who donated and let's just say the boys weren't the only ones who made history this year.  Don't settle.  Keep supporting this program and leave it better than you found it.  It'll be weird with no lacrosse this weekend but keep following us @WPFLACROSSE and if youse want to reach out with any suggestions for the future, please contact us - westphillysfinest@gmail.com

Until next year...

 

From the Bleachers 

 

 

 

 

From the Bleachers: When Talent Meets Heart

 

            Wow again!

            Not Wow in surprise we were victorious, but Wow that we had no idea how scintillating a non-Overtime could be. Wow in the way it unfolded. Wow in the electric atmosphere. Wow in the meeting of talent and heart. Wow, its possible to play in the sun!

            Those of us who sat in the frigid bleachers in February, March, and even April witnessed drama on a weekly basis. We shivered as Virginia took a broken play and broke our hearts—yet again—in the waning seconds. Our teeth rattled as Villanova took advantage of their icy turf to put an overtime goal in when we thought we had them. Howling winds against St. Johns, torrential downpours against Delaware, and a ridiculous blizzard against St. Joes did not break our will. We were still bundled up in a nail-biter victory over Penn State in triple OT. The strongest steel goes through the hottest flame we heard growing up, and perhaps the strongest will is molded from the most challenging elements. After all, a Dragon’s fire comes from within.

            Winning may be a tonic that cures and bonds. But you need scars to have something to heal. Drexel has plenty of them over the decades. Good teams, and some great players, have won and lost wearing blue and yellow. But never in the NCAA Championships Big Dance, televised nationally. No Drexel team ever had as much pressure to perform as this 2014 version of Dragonlaxers.

            After such emotional intensity post a triple overtime victory at Hofstra, on the heels of another overtime semi final in the CAA Championships against Towson, was there gas in the tank to take on the Ivy League Champion University of Pennsylvania? Only the players and coaches in that locker room at Vidas Field knew. And even that group had to have a natural bout of butterflies the size of Pterodactyls.

            On this day—a hot one for once—at epic Franklin Field, we found out the answer to this question and revealed a few new truths, too.

            First, we discovered we had a thriving student body. Second, it was unearthed we have an actual mascot (Mario the Dragon). Third, we have real life cheerleaders. Fourth, we were playing a home game, not an away game.

            What remained unanswered was how tight we would be and for how long, a quarter, half, or the whole game? With a raucous crowd, including the impressive Penn Band, it was expected we’d see nerves translate to turnovers and missed assignments. Emotion was put on the graphic “Keys to the Game” according to ESPNU analyst Matt Ward (Tewaaraton winner and National Champion for UVa) and announcer Mike Corey. They were correct.

            Before we had time to smear on the suntan lotion it was 2-0 to Penn. It wasn’t until almost half way through the first quarter before we stopped playing Hot Potato with the ball and got on the scoreboard. Sophomore Hank Brown, now fully healed from leg issues, took a feed from Cole Shafer and put all he had into a step-down shot to smoke Quaker goalie Brian Feeney and cut the lead in half. It may have been only the first goal, but it was a statement play. The shot was a rocket, and it wasn’t from our most heralded midfielder, Big Ben McIntosh. That first goal told Penn, our crowd, and North Americans from West Philly and Toronto to Laguna Beach that when Drexel puts the ball in the net it is with authority!

            Except for the few who were still thawing out from the winter in the bleachers, no one has seen the Drexel Dragons Men’s Lacrosse team. Quality teams like Albany know we are solid, but let’s face it, we are the best-kept secret, and perhaps the most underrated team, to play Division 1 lacrosse today.

            Critics will complain Penn was overrated in their tournament ranking (#4). This writer does not like Penn’s limited schedule of only twelve regular season games (versus our 14 and Duke’s 17, for instance), but RPI does not lie. The numbers speak to the quality of the teams you play, their record, the records of the teams they play, and the differential of scores. Penn did not win the Ivy League by wearing cool helmets—they won by earning it on the field with blood, sweat, and tears against the best of the best.

            With Penn up 3-1, holding the ball in their sticks and a man advantage, the game was on the verge of getting out hand. True, we have come back by three the last two games in thrilling fashion, but how many holes can a team dig and crawl out of? This enormous stage made it a different conversation.

            The Drexel Man Down unit not only killed the penalty, but also set up Ryan Belka in transition, a dangerous guy with the ball on the full sprint, who ripped one over the head of the highly decorated Ivy League Goalie of the Year like an exclamation point. Instead of 4-1 it became 3-2, and our two goals were with such authority you could argue they were like body blows in a heavyweight-boxing match, not knockouts, but crippling to the anatomy and psyche in the early rounds. Credit Miles Thomas, Paul Harrison, Jake Kiernan, and a Klunder. The brothers Klunder always do the dirty work, never complain, and get the job done. So whether Jason or Jordon was on the field for a particular Man Down is irrelevant. This was the first of 4 Man Down penalty kills, enormous in a game of this magnitude.

            Note: the first penalty was for holding, but the second penalty was on Tyler Houchins for absolutely ruining a dodging Penn player. You could hear the collision throughout the stadium. As a former Dman back-in-the-day (when it was still allowed to nail people—if not encouraged), this writer loved the hit, thought it was clean, and moreso because it set the tone Drexel would not be pushed around. There is a statue of NFL great Chuck Bednarik inside Franklin Field, and old “Concrete Charlie” would have loved that hit and the physicality of this game.

            Unfortunately, the smackdown incensed Penn, and they took retribution shortly thereafter by clobbering our star freshman Shafer with a brutal shot to the head. And although Cole is as tough as they get and returned to the game briefly, it concerned our trainers enough to keep him on the sideline for the entire second half. To have a 50+ point producer on the bench might squelch hope for most teams. Not these Dragons.

            Penn’s star Attackman Nick Doktor found the back of the net to make it 4-2 with nine seconds to go in the first quarter. It would have been much worse had our sophomore goalie Will Gabrielsen not made 5 saves in the opening salvo, a couple of which were demoralizing to Penn because they were point blank stuffs. So, again, instead of being down as much as 9-2, we got a face off to end the quarter trailing by just 2. 

            We know who Nick Saputo is and what he brings to the table. You saw it all year if you went to a game. His 19-22 face-off domination against Towson in the CAA Semi was an All American performance as stated previously here on WPF. But how many people were at that game? Take a guess. Wrong, 331 is the correct answer.

            Well, this time there was nearly ten times that (2852) in the stands with millions more at home watching on television. Saputo had already spooked Penn’s face off man Danny Feeney, the twin of goalie Danny, so badly he jumped early, putting the ball in Nick’s stick with 0:09 on the clock. Without hesitation, Nick rushed the goal and fed it inside, yet the ball was batted down, causing it to pop up off the turf into the air as the seconds ticked away. Only instant replay could truly capture the incredible athletic ability of Saputo as he snagged the ball while getting decked, and somehow through sheer will and determination got a shot off towards the goal, while his body was perpendicular to the ground. Not only did he get the shot off, he managed to place it in the far corner off a bouncer past keeper Feeney’s sprawling legs, making it 4-3. Another body-blow to Penn’s gut.

            Despite the temporary shocker, Penn gathered themselves and continued to play solid in the second quarter, moving the ball deliberately and methodically to set up an Iso (Isolation = One guy goes to the net solo, unassisted) to make it 5-3 before Nick Trizano cut the lead back down to 5-4 with a bold Iso move of his own. This is when the bodies flew and both teams saw themselves man down. The difference was Penn took a man down kill and converted it into a longstick goal as Drexel was caught napping while substituting players from the box. Having a pole score is always a lift to a team. Having a pole score while man down is a major momentum boost. Was the game slipping away from the Dragons? The Penn Band, also known as The Huge, sure sounded like it.

            Down 6-4 with 1:16 to go in the half, Saputo took the face off and gave Drexel possession. With just 17 seconds remaining sophomore Jules Raucci showed the lax world his ankle-breaking split-dodge-crossover-move, leaving his Penn defender whiffing at air. Jules then absolutely rips an upper to make it a 6-5 ballgame. Fist to the ribs…

            That probably would have been enough to build on in the locker room, considering Penn had controlled much of the half, but Saputo had other thoughts in mind. Being close wasn’t gonna cut it. It was time to make history.

            Pinch & Pop, one of Nick’s favorite moves, worked to perfection and before Penn could say, “Cover him!” Saputo was throwing his body, and the ball, towards the Penn cage. To be clear, Nick didn’t just lean into the shot, he dove while shooting. When the net burst into motion the Drexel crowd lost it. Down 6-4 had become 6-6 with just 12 seconds to go in the half. Our cheerleaders were jumping up and down, the mascot waving our flag, and the parents were delirious. This was an uppercut to the Quaker’s chin.

            To our utter amazement, and for West Philly lore upon which legends are made, Saputo was still not finished. Again, he bullied Feeney and snagged the ball on the run to fling himself, and the ball, towards the cage, this time with an overhand rocket that stings the net inside pipe. First Team CAA is impressive, but this a First Team All American sequence. In fact, this is the kind of play that little lax groms around the world look up their parents and say, “I want to be a face-off guy!”

            To say our crowd was losing it would be the worst understatement ever construed. It was the knockout blow. The reeling Quakers were only saved by-the-bell of halftime.

            You cannot literally say the game was over then and there because a half was yet to be played and the score was just a one-goal game (7 to 6), but it was. The Fire that a Dragon breathes is the hottest ever, and when the third quarter started the turf would be further scorched. From Penn’s goal with a minute to go in the half until 9:42 in the fourth quarter, 21 minutes, Drexel outscored the Quakers 10-1. Defensemen Matt Dusek, Houchins, Thomas, and Mohawk-shaved Kiernan were a buzz saw, with LSMs Markel Nelson and Jake Gennosa augmenting the fury. Gabrielsen added to his 7 first half saves with three more in the third quarter, nearly all from in close, and one that was Sports Center Top 10 Plays worthy, a diving across the crease stuff, followed by another brick wall body block.

            While the D was nearly invincible, the O was tearing Quakers apart limb by limb. Jared Boudreau, our senior from Vermont, cranked not one, but two whippies hard and high. Raucci added a second goal on his day (to go with 2 assists), and sophomore Chris Frederick got his first goal of the year by jamming one in from close range. At that point it was 14-8 and all that was left was the Fat Lady singing, Coach Brian Voelker getting a Gatorade shower, and Big Ben jamming in another hattrick to break the All-Time Single Season Goals Record (46) at DU. Forty six goals is impressive by any standard, but from the midfield position it is extraordinary. Glad to hear the ESPNU team in the booth acknowledged exactly that, and further note that McIntosh is the #1 scoring Middie in the country this season.

            Leadership by senior Captains Klunder and McIntosh drove freshmen like Joe Rainoldi to embrace their positions whether superstar or role player. The sophomores from Mason Pynn to the starters likewise bought-in and supported each other from week to week. Seeing sophomore Cal Winkleman enthusiastically charge the field to hug Shafter after Cole’s game winner in the CAA Championship shows that these guys are in it together, regardless of whether they played in this year’s triple OT victory or last year’s triple OT victory.

            On this Mother’s Day the young men with dragons on their helmets gave their moms the biggest gift of all; sheer joy. A mother doesn’t need to know the Native Americans invented Baggattaway as a way to honor their Gods and to avoid full-scale wars. All mothers really need to know is that their sons, and daughters, are happy. If camaraderie, passion, and life lessons like putting someone other than yourself first are the catalyst for a smile, most mothers will find bliss in that, too. We thank you mothers for always being there for us as players, coaches, fans, and alumni. The search for a child’s joy is why these loving moms show up early, stay late, and bring food regardless of climate change or circumstance. We hope the smiles on Sunday were a giant, “I Love You, Mom.”

            Regarding lax, we are not finished!

            There are four games going to be played this weekend for a birth to Championship Weekend in Baltimore. Remarkably, watching us on Sunday will be Syracuse, Loyola, Cornell, Virginia, UNC, Harvard, Air Force, and Penn who at least got to play in this year’s tournament. Excellent teams like Princeton, Hofstra, Fairfield, Penn State, UMBC, UMass, High Point, Yale, Lehigh, Army, UMass, Towson, Villanova, and St. Joes will continue to watch us on TV in the NCAA Quarterfinals. All 67 Division 1 teams will watch, as will all the other levels in college, high school, club, and professional. Drexel is playing. It is an honor to be among the final 8. Who thought we’d be the second game of a double-header in the quarters playing after Johns Hopkins versus Duke? Actually, some of us did, but it is still awesome.

            Denver is loaded with highly recruited talent, trained in world-class facilities, and coached by six-time national champion (all at Princeton, the most by any active coach) Bill Tierney. On paper they are big favorites. Just like Hofstra and Penn were. But they were not undefeated this year. Indeed, Penn beat Denver 12-10, one of Denver’s only 2 losses in an impressive 15-2 campaign. Denver is 3-2 against Top 20 competition this year, and we are 3-3.

            But you know what? We have Big Ben, Belks, Jules, Cole, Vermont, Duce, T$, Miles, The Jakes, The Klunders, Mace & Clark, Triz, backed by clutch goalie Gabes. And our team has a not-so-secret weapon, a nuke named Saputo.

            Our mascot breathes Fire. Our players breathe Fire. Our parents and alumni breathe Fire. Many pioneers burned in fires as they tread west long ago, but this time they may find themselves scorched on the east coast at Delaware Stadium on Sunday at 2:30pm. Come add flames in person or from your couch watching on national TV (ESPNU). Either way, we remain proud to be part of the Dragonlax family and all that it represents.

            Dare to dream. We are only three wins from being National Champions. Why not us? We have the talent and we have the heart. That’s all a team needs for 60 minutes. Good luck Dragons. It’s right there in front of you. Go ahead and take it!

 

- Anonymous Dragonlax Fan