For the first time in program history, the Drexel University field hockey team has won the Colonial Athletic Association championship. The top-seeded Dragons defeated second-seeded Northeastern University Nov. 4 in dramatic fashion by a score of 2-1 in overtime at Buckley Field. Sophomore forward Christina Conrad scored the game-winning goal off a pass from senior midfielder Amanda Fleischut with 11:17 remaining in overtime.
Drexel’s path to glory was littered with dramatic moments in the CAA Championships. In the semifinals, the Dragons scored with just four seconds remaining in the game against the University of Delaware to make it into the finals.
“I know its semi-cliche, but you have to play to the last second, the last minute, and [the team] believes it,” head coach Denise Zelenak said after the win against Northeastern. “[The team] believes it, they really do.”
As the top seed, Drexel had a first-round bye, automatically advancing them to the semifinal round. The Dragons played the rival University of Delaware in their first game of the tournament, looking to avenge their Oct. 19 loss to the Blue Hens. Delaware defeated the Dragons 4-2 in that game, even though Drexel outshot Delaware 16-10.
The fifth-seeded Blue Hens got on the board first in the semifinal game with an open-field goal by Michaela Patzner. Patzner made a run down the left side of the field, forcing sophomore goaltender Jantien Gunter out of the net and creating an opening on the right side of the cage for Patzner to score. The goal came with 20:41 remaining in the first half, giving the Dragons plenty of time to regroup. After the goal, the Dragons began to push the play into the Blue Hens’ zone, sending one shot at the net. With just under five minutes remaining, the Dragons were awarded a penalty corner but only came away with just one shot on goal. The half ended with Drexel behind 1-0.
Just nine minutes into the second half, Drexel was awarded back-to-back penalty corners. The first corner was foiled by Delaware goaltender Sarah Scher after she made a great diving save. The second corner proved to be more fruitful. Freshman back Laura Hibshman had a clean stop for Fleischut, who sent a shot on net, which was deflected by junior midfielder Lindsay McArdle past Scher to bring the Dragons even.
With 18 minutes remaining, the Blue Hens were awarded back-to-back penalty corners but couldn’t capitalize on either chance. Gunter made a terrific save on the second corner, keeping the game knotted at 1-1.
Just two minutes later, the Dragons had to kill off a five-minute penalty, as McArdle was given a yellow card. Delaware was awarded a corner, but another save by Gunter kept the Dragons in the game.
Zelenak called a timeout with 12 minutes remaining, giving Drexel’s defense much-needed rest to kill off the remaining minute of the McArdle penalty. The Dragons were able to keep the play to the middle of the pitch, successfully standing up the Blue Hens’ attack.
The Dragons were awarded a corner with just over a minute remaining, but Scher made a save off a shot by Fleischut.
With less than 15 seconds remaining, the game seemed to be destined for overtime until junior back Kristen Focht sent a pass all the way from the Dragons’ zone to just outside the Delaware circle connecting with McArdle. McArdle crossed the ball to Fleischut, who sent a hard shot at Scher, who made a kick save but produced a juicy rebound. Sophomore forward Margaux Lourtie, who had just entered the game, dove at the rebound and knocked the ball past Scher to give the Dragons a 2-1 lead with four seconds remaining.
“We practice that [play] all the time,” Lourtie said. “I had fresh legs, and all I wanted to do was score to win the game.”
Gunter made seven saves on 10 shots against the Blue Hens, three more than in their previous meeting. Scher made six saves on 18 shots in the losing effort.
The next day, Drexel got off to a slow start against the Northeastern Huskies in the championship game, giving up a goal in the first four minutes. The play was a thing of beauty: Northeastern’s Crystal Poland found a hole in the Dragons’ defense, ran free into the circle and sent a pass to Deirdre Duke, who chipped it over Gunter to give the Huskies an early 1-0 lead.
Play continued back and forth after the goal, with both teams stretching the field. The Huskies were able to stay on top of the Dragons, forcing them to make quick passes to avoid pressuring defenders. Northeastern earned the game’s first penalty corners with 15 minutes remaining in the first half. Duke received a clean stop off the insert and took a shot that was kick saved by Gunter and cleared by McArdle.
Strong defense for Drexel paid off, earning them a corner with 12 minutes remaining in the half. Unfortunately, McArdle whiffed on the insert, squandering a good scoring opportunity.
After the corner, the Huskies continued to play aggressive on defense, forcing Drexel to the sideline. Northeastern was awarded back-to-back corners with six minutes remaining. The first attempt was blocked, and the second attempt was misplayed off the stop – the shot was too high off the initial hit.
After escaping the Huskies’ offensive onslaught, the Dragons worked their way into the Northeastern zone. With just three minutes remaining in the half, the Dragons were awarded a corner, with McArdle on the insert once again. The insert was clean but the stop wasn’t. Fleischut controlled the bouncing stop and worked the ball along the perimeter of the circle and finally sent a bouncing shot into the net for a Drexel goal. It was a key goal to be able to go into the second half tied.
After the game, Zelenak said that being able to get that goal and not giving Northeastern a chance to set up a shutdown game plan during halftime was huge.
“That means it’s an open game,” Zelenak said. “Everyone has to play offense as well as defense; [Northeastern couldn’t] play prevent defense.”
The second half saw both teams play great defense, with Gunter making great saves on multiple occasions. Northeastern recorded six shots in the half, while Drexel only recorded two.
With 11 minutes remaining, the Huskies called a timeout, and it paid off, as they were awarded a corner once play resumed. Duke received the ball off the stop, made a few moves and let a shot go, but McArdle was there to make a courageous block and a diving clear.
With five minutes remaining, Fleischut stole the ball from a Huskies defender, giving her a clean run into the circle. She took a shot, but it hit off a Northeastern foot to award the Dragons a corner. McArdle whiffed on the insert for a second time and once again squandered a scoring chance for the Dragons. Because of the failed insert, McArdle had to clear the ball out of bounds and was sent off to serve a two-minute penalty with just three minutes remaining. A minute later, Lourtie was sent off for a back tackle, giving Northeastern a two-player advantage.
The Dragons successfully killed off both penalties without giving up a shot on goal with one minute left. The Dragons had one more chance in the final minute of regulation, but time ran out before Drexel could get any meaningful opportunities.
In the sudden-death overtime, the Dragons controlled most of the play early, playing a great keepaway game. Two minutes into OT, Northeastern had an opportunity just outside the Drexel circle. Duke sent a ball into the circle, but McArdle was there once again to make a diving clear. Off a restart, Fleischut had a wide-open run to the Huskies circle and sent a cross that hit off a Northeastern defender’s foot, resulting in a Drexel corner. McArdle sent a clean insert into the circle, but the stop was bobbled, forcing Fleischut to take the ball on the move and send a weak backhand shot, which was blocked. On the Northeastern clear, though, a foul was called, awarding Drexel another corner. The Dragons would finally break the tie and make this corner count. McArdle sent a clean insert into the circle, which was stopped by Hibshman. Fleischut controlled the ball and made a no-look pass to Conrad, who sent the ball into the back of the net.
McArdle was the first Dragon to mob Conrad as the Drexel bench cleared to join the celebration. Conrad only had four goals on the season, so she was an unlikely hero for the Dragons.
“[After the first corner] in the huddle, we all said what we thought was there, and I looked up and I said, ‘If I see a fly come at me, I’m going to dump it to you [Conrad],” Fleischut, the lone senior on the team, said. “So I saw a fly coming at me, dumped it to [Conrad], and I knew as soon as she slapped it was going to be in the back of the net.”
“[Conrad] has been practicing all year, waiting for her moment, so it was just really exciting to see them put it together,” Zelenak said.
The celebration continued as Fleischut was named CAA Tournament MVP. The Dragons’ captain had been to two previous CAA championship games in her career at Drexel but lost both. She wouldn’t let the trophy go throughout the team’s celebration and was heard saying, “I’m gonna sleep with this tonight.”
“Coming in second is hard,” Fleischut said. “You do all that work and you come up short — it’s just really hard. We knew we didn’t want to feel that way. I tried to [make sure the team knew] that this is big. … We came out in first, and it’s the greatest feelings ever.”
McArdle, Hibshman and Gunter were also all named to the All-Tournament team.
With the win, Drexel received an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Dragons will play second-seeded Princeton University (17-1, 7-0 Ivy League) in the first round of the national tournament.
Fleischut was in the NCAA Tournament with the Dragons in 2009, where they made it to the Elite Eight. She had simple advice for her teammates moving forward.
“I don’t want us to forget who we are and our game,” Fleischut said. “Some of these teams we are going to face play a whole different style. … If we stick to who we are, I think we’re going to do great. I’m really proud of these girls.”