The Drexel field hockey team’s miraculous season came to an end Nov. 10 with a tough loss in the first round of the NCAA Tournament against Princeton University. The Dragons fell to the No. 2 Tigers 5-0 in a game that saw Princeton score goals in the second half. The unceremonious end to the season is overshadowed by a pair of impressive program firsts: the first automatic bid to the national tournament and the first Colonial Athletic Association championship.
The Dragons were able to keep Princeton’s lethal Kathleen Sharkey to just one goal, but she was able to contribute assists on the Tigers’ first two goals. Sharkey scored a whopping 35 goals during the regular season, the most in the nation. She dominated the offensive zone with 12 shots and seven shots on goal, more than Drexel had combined. The Dragons had just five total shots, two on goal in the game.
The Tigers’ Amanda Bird scored the lone goal early in the first half. The goal came off a play created by a penalty corner when Sharkey found Bird wide open on the left side, and Bird buried her chance. The Dragons only had two penalty corners and zero shots on goal in the first half, but they escaped down by only one goal.
The Tigers opened the floodgates in the second half, sending 18 shots at the Drexel net. Just a minute into the half, Sydney Kirby scored a goal off a feed from Sharkey to put Princeton up 2-0. The Tigers continued to pressure the Dragons after the goal, holding them to no shots for nearly 27 minutes. Princeton peppered Drexel sophomore goalie Jantien Gunter with shot after shot, and it finally paid off in the 59th minute when Teresa Benvenuti picked up her own rebound to score. About a minute later, Kirby scored her second goal of the day off a shot on a penalty corner to put Princeton up 4-0. The Dragons finally started to put some pressure on the Tigers after the goal, putting up their first two shots and corner of the half. Drexel couldn’t put one home as time wound down, but the Tigers could. Sharkey scored off a penalty corner with just a minute remaining in the game to seal the 5-0 victory.
Head coach Denise Zelenak said that the Dragons’ game plan was to keep the game close, like in the first half, but playing defense for so long wore Drexel down.
“The effort it took to play such a long, sustained defense definitely wore our players down, which resulted in giving up some late goals.”
Gunter made 12 saves in the game, tied for the most she’s had to make all year. Junior midfielder Lindsay McArdle and sophomore forward Christina Conrad both recorded one shot on goal, the only two for the Dragons.
This marked senior forward Amanda Fleischut’s final game as a Dragon. She finishes her career with 26 goals and 70 points.
The Dragons finished their season with a 15-7 record overall and a 5-2 record in the CAA. Zelenak said that it was the team’s goal to win the CAA title, but having a successful season is more than just goal setting.
“[It’s] more on how you work to achieve them, how you bounce back from losses, how you prepare for the next challenge and truly believing that what you want is possible,” she said.
Old Dominion University had the best record in the conference with a 15-6 record overall and a clean 7-0 sweep of the CAA. ODU was ineligible to participate in the CAA Tournament because of its impending move to Conference USA, but the Monarchs received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. They lost in the second round to the top-seeded University of North Carolina.
Northeastern University also represented the CAA in the national tournament and lost in the first round to the third-seeded University of Connecticut.
After downing the Dragons, Princeton took care of the host of the tournament, the University of Virginia, in the second round, and will play the University of Maryland Nov. 16 in the Final Four.
Looking to next season, the Dragons will be returning all but one player. They will have high expectations to repeat with a CAA championship next year.
“I believe we have an amazing group of players returning that are talented, athletic and now experienced,” Zelenak said. “The future only looks bright for these young players.”