The Drexel men’s lacrosse team suffered a crushing last-second defeat Feb. 16 to the No. 7 University of Virginia Cavaliers by a score of 11-10.
The Dragons started the game on a sour note, falling behind 2-0 within the first six minutes, but rebounded to end the first quarter with a 4-3 lead. They entered halftime down 6-5, but throughout the first half the team displayed solid defense, the likes of which they were lacking last season. The only exception came at the end of the half, when Drexel allowed Virginia to score two goals in less than two minutes and effectively recover momentum.
Sophomore Will Gabrielsen started the game in the net and performed fairly well in his half of play, allowing six goals on 11 shots. After allowing six goals in the first half, Drexel head coach Brian Voelker made a goalie switch to the rusty-looking sophomore Cal Winkelman to begin the third quarter.
Winkelman looked nervous at times in his first 10 minutes of play, which led to three quick Virginia goals. He recovered as the game went on, only allowing two goals in the final 20 minutes of the game and keeping the team in it with some impressive saves. When he was asked about the switch, Voelker described his strategy for goalie management and the performance of Winkelman in particular, who made eight saves on 13 shots on goal.
“Both of those guys played last year, both had a good preseason and we thought both deserved a chance,” he said. “Coming into the game, we told them they were both going to play halves and Cal really had a great second half. He really stepped up and made some great saves.”
The Dragons had come out of the locker room for the third quarter screaming and enthused about “shocking the country,” but they appeared to exhaust all their energy on the entrance, saving little for the game itself.
They had maintained steady offensive pressure in the first half, taking the pressure off their defense to slow a very good Cavaliers attack. In the third quarter, however, the attack ceased being effective.
Drexel was not as composed following the break, turning the ball over more than in the first half. Virginia took advantage of the increased possession and scored three straight goals, extending their lead to 9-5.
With three minutes left in the third quarter, the Dragons recovered the energy they lost after halftime and began their comeback. Two quick goals by senior Nick Trizano and redshirt freshman Cole Shafer swung the momentum to the Dragons’ side and paved the way for a comeback.
For much of the fourth quarter, the game was tied at 9-9, and the back-and-forth between the teams was aggressive and tense. Virginia broke the stalemate with a goal by Mark Cockerton with 2:56 remaining in the game.
Not to be outshone, Trizano responded 59 seconds later with a goal of his own, leaving the score tied at 10-10 with less than two minutes to play. Drexel proceeded to win the faceoff and had a good chance at scoring, before a turnover in front of the net allowed Virginia a chance at having the last offensive possession.
On the ensuing possession, Cockerton once again showed his clutch abilities for the Cavaliers as he scored an unassisted goal coming from behind the net with only 15 seconds to play. While the Dragons put up a fight in the remaining time, there simply was not enough of it.
Losing by one to Virginia for the third year in row might seem crushing, but the results are not nearly as discouraging as they seem. The unranked Dragons gave the No. 7 Cavaliers a run for their money, right down to the final seconds.
Another notable aspect of the game was the defensive improvement over last year. In 2013, Drexel gave up 13 goals to a similar Virginia team, and overall the defense and goalie play seemed more composed than it did at most points last year. The only exception was a poor third quarter, but the Dragons quickly turned things around.
With that said, the Dragons have things to work on. The team is difficult to score on when their offense dictates time of possession, but when Virginia had the ball, they sometimes seemed able to score at will. This could be problematic for the Dragons against a team with an overwhelming defense — like Colonial Athletic Association rival The Pennsylvania State University. They may be unable to take pressure off of their own defense, as they were for the 10-minute stretch in the third quarter in which the Cavaliers scored three goals.
A few Dragons stood out among a multitude of impressive performances, namely Shafer and junior Nick Saputo. Shafer netted four goals and appears poised to take the helm as the team’s main offensive force for the year. Besides having incredible hair, Saputo is notable for his faceoff record, winning 19 of 25 against Virginia. He was one of the primary reasons why Drexel was able to stay in the game.
Though the loss was disappointing, the players can keep their heads high with optimism for the rest of the season and with pride in their ability to keep up with any team in the nation. After the game, Nick Trizano seemed impressed with his team’s performance.
“We came out, we played hard, and we stuck with them the whole time, and you can’t ask for much more than that,” he said. “We really played well today.”
The Dragons play their next game Feb. 22 at the No. 11 University at Albany, State University of New York.