For many, fall is synonymous with an end. The leaves change color and begin their mass migration from branch to ground, the heat gives way to a chill in the air, and the carefree summer months are officially replaced with the responsibilities of another school year.
But for a small population of Dragons, this latter reality brings with it an overwhelming sense of promise. For the Drexel Field Hockey team, the 2016-2017 campaign falls into this category: one with high expectations for this year’s squad.
As is the reality in all of college athletics, one of the largest obstacles to overcome is inevitable loss of talent due to graduation. For the Dragons, this meant saying farewell to five seniors, led by four-time All-CAA Lauren Hibshman. Hibshman’s shoes will admittedly be tough to fill. In addition to her league honors, she was a NFHCA Division I All-Mid-Atlantic Region First Team honoree, led Drexel to three CAA championship appearances and was a two-time Helen Calls Reisner Most Valuable Player Awardee.
However, it seems as though Drexel is well-equipped to handle even a loss of this magnitude. Coming into this season, the roster is a healthy mix of young talent and veteran experience. The team welcomes in five new players in Ally Chapis, Tess Horan, Tess Bernheimer, Maria Palmieri and sophomore transfer Delaney Baxendale, previously of the University of Maine. It appears as if this crop of talent is poised to make an impact this season for the Dragons, with both Bernheimer and Horan notching goals in preseason play.
A plentiful sophomore class (12 of the 19 rostered players) also promises to make its mark upon this upcoming year. The group is led by a trio of Katie Bagdon, a starter in all 19 games of 2015; Erin Gilchrist, a goalkeeper recently named to the Scottish national team and Megan Wiest, who along with Bagdon was named to the CAA All-Rookie Team. Wiest, a forward, looks to especially shoulder more of an offensive load this year after her All-CAA Second Team honors and an honorable mention in the 2016 conference preseason poll.
But as talented as the sophomore class is, it’s fair to say that much of this season’s prospects ride on the shoulders of Senior Jessica McCarthy. McCarthy returns brandishing All-CAA Second Team and NFHCA Division I Mid-Atlantic Region Second Team accolades and a cumulative career that automatically garners respect from teammate and opponent alike. Last season alone, she was the Dragon’s most potent offensive threat, recording 12 points, including five goals, an accomplishment that led to her recent selection to the CAA Field Hockey Preseason Team.
As a team captain this year, she looks to not only build on her individual successes, but also to take the leadership reigns from Hibshman and rally her team to yet another championship berth.
Such an accomplishment is easier said than done when faced with the stiff competition that the CAA offers. For the third consecutive year, Delaware promises to be a powerhouse, led by senior Esmee Peet, the three-time preseason Player of the Year nominee and a 2015 first team All American. James Madison and Hofstra are also projected to finish above Drexel, who is ranked fourth in the preseason standings. In order to maintain this position and qualify for the league playoffs, the Dragons will have to fight off Northeastern University, College of William & Mary and Towson University.
This quest begins with their home opener, a matchup with the Richmond University Spiders at noon Aug. 28. Other notable contests include those with city rivals St. Joseph’s University Sept. 9, Temple University Sept. 11 and the University of Pennsylvania on Sept. 27. However, league play will be the key to this season, kicking off with an all-important battle with Northeastern University Sept. 30 and capped off with an Oct. 30 season finale with the University of Delaware Blue Hens. Home games will be played at Buckley Field on 43rd Street and Powelton Avenue, a short walk from the University City campus, so try to support as much as possible and wish the best of luck to the Dragons this upcoming year.