March 14, 2014 by Brian Palmer
The Drexel women’s basketball team will head into the Colonial Athletic Association Championship as the No. 4 seed with a quarterfinal matchup against the No. 5 seed, the Hofstra University Pride. The Dragons ended the regular season 14-15 but finished 9-7 in conference play. Their conference record was tied with the College of Charleston for the third best in the league.
Two of the Dragons’ conference losses came against Hofstra in closely contested games, as the Pride was able to defeat Drexel by a combined total of four points. In their first matchup, Hofstra freshman Krystal Luciano hit a layup in the final minute of the game to give the Pride a 68-66 victory at the Daskalakis Athletic Center. The second victory, a 60-58 win, came when the Dragons traveled to Hofstra, where forward Elo Edeferioka’s two late free throws sank Drexel. The loss marked the team’s third consecutive to Hofstra overall.
Drexel, however, has won four consecutive first round CAA Championship games. Despite the long history between these two teams, the rematch in Upper Marlboro, Md., March 14 at 2:30 p.m. will mark the first time both schools have faced off in a conference tournament since 2000, when both members were part of the American East Conference.
Senior forward Fiona Flanagan enters her final CAA tournament averaging 8.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and three assists per game. Flanagan is the unquestioned leader of this Dragons team because she has a willingness to do the less glamorous things necessary to win games.
“She does all the little things; she wants to do all the nitty-gritty work that no one else out there wants to take care off,” head coach Denise Dillon said of her do-everything forward.
Fellow seniors Abby Redick and Tory Thierolf will aid Flanagan in their pursuit of the CAA tournament title. Redick is averaging 6.5 points and 3.9 rebounds in her senior season. Thierolf is setting career highs in her final season as a Dragon, averaging five points and 2.4 rebounds per game, and shooting 49 percent from the field. Thierolf is heading into the tournament on a hot streak, averaging 13.7 points per game and shooting over 50 percent from the field in her past six games.
Complementing the three seniors is a youthful roster featuring sophomore guards Rachel Pearson and Meghan Creighton, who return from last year’s Women’s National Invitation Tournament–winning run.
The infusion of three other impact underclassmen has given Dillon a foundation that has been growing with every game played. Sophomore Carrie Alexander missed a majority of last season due to an injury, but this year Alexander has proved to be a stabilizing force for the Dragons coming off the bench, providing great leadership on the court and timely shooting.
Freshman Sarah Curran has adjusted well in her first year as a Dragon. Curran started in 22 games and has averaged 9.2 points and three rebounds per game. Fellow freshman Alexis Smith has provided a boost for the Dragons’ offense, averaging 6.5 points per game off the bench.
Despite being a young team, Dillon believes her team has what it takes to succeed in the CAA tournament if they approach it with the right mentality.
“Everything about this tournament feels new,” Dillon said. “There is no guarantee in this tournament. We will just try to stay focused and take it one game at a time.”
If the Dragons can break their losing streak to Hofstra in the quarterfinals, they will have a tough road ahead if they are to win the whole thing. While the Dragons in the past have been contenders for the CAA Championship, this season there are several teams ranked ahead of Drexel and favored to win the conference tournament.
Conventional wisdom says to choose No. 1 seed James Madison University to come away with the title. The Dukes are led by Preseason CAA Player of the Year senior guard Kirby Buckholder, who has been a steady presence for JMU this season, averaging 19.1 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. Buckholder will lead the Dukes in their first round contest against the winner of the matchup between No. 8 seed The College of William & Mary and No. 9 seed the University of North Carolina Wilmington.
Another team that poses a threat is the University of Delaware. Despite the loss of All-American Elena Delle Donne, the Blue Hens are once again a threat to claim the CAA title. Delaware will face Northeastern University at 5 p.m. March 14. Northeastern narrowly defeated Delaware in the final game of the regular season 54-53, which snapped the Hens’ 24-game winning streak against Northeastern. Along with Delaware and JMU, the College of Charleston is a team to watch in the tournament as well.
In tournament championships, anything can happen. Teams can catch fire and go on glorious runs while highly-ranked teams can falter at any moment. Having a coach that has been through these situations before and players that can provide leadership because of their experience is always key for championship teams.
Not only does Drexel have the women necessary to get the job done, but women who have proven in the past that they are capable of making championship runs.