May 09, 2014 by Billy Bauer
On July 20, 1969, mankind took its first step on the moon.
On May 3, 2014, that became the second-most important “first”in history.
The Drexel Dragons men’s lacrosse team is on its way to its first National Collegiate Athletic Association Tournament berth in their otherwise storied history after topping Colonial Athletic Association rival Hofstra University, 11-10, in a phenomenal triple overtime CAA Championship game.
The game started as an overwhelmingly defensive battle, with both groups exchanging trips into the opposing team’s zone, only to turn the ball over or otherwise lose possession. The trend continued for almost 10 minutes to start the game, and frustration seemed to be brewing among the offenses.
With six minutes remaining in the first, Hofstra’s Torin Varn ended the drought with an impressive goal, kickstarting what would be an impressive game from Varn, to give the Pride an early 1-0 lead.
Soon thereafter, back-to-back goals byfreshman Cole Shafer and senior Nick Trizano would give the Dragons a 2-1 lead. Another Hofstra goal in the waning moments of the first quarter brought the game to a 2-2 draw at the first break.
The second quarter featured equally tight defense as Drexel netted two more goals, one each from Trizano and Shafer, while Hofstra’s Drew Coholan scored their lone goal in the period, assisted by Varn, allowing the Dragons to take a slim 4-3 lead into halftime.
The seven combined goals scored in the first half were the fewest the team had experienced since a 9-7 win March 29 at the University of Delaware.
Then, as was the story in the team’s semifinal game against Towson University, the third quarter almost spelled their downfall.
An incredible over-the-shoulder goal from Shafer extended the Dragons’lead to 5-3 to start the quarter, but that was the final positive point of the quarter for the team.
Hofstra exploded from that point, scoring five straight goals over the next eight minutes of play, leaving the Dragons looking confused and disoriented. The Pride’s Varn scored three straight goals during the run, upping his total to four for the game, and Hofstra exited the third quarter leading 8-5.
Throughout the Hofstra run in the third, the Dragons seemed unable to put together any strong possessions and trailed by three goals with 15 minutes to save their season. For most teams, this would be too much to overcome, and they would crumble under the pressure of a daunting comeback.
This Dragons team isn’t most teams.
Head coach Brian Voelker knew as much when he talked to his men before the final frame of regulation.
“I knew that they were a resilient group, as they’d shown all year,”Voelker said. “I didn’t try to give them too much to think about; I just wanted them to focus on getting back to the basics and playing lacrosse like I knew they could. They’re all great players, and just needed to focus on that.”
To start the fourth, the Dragons came in with a vengeance and, within a minute, junior Ryan Belka scored a goal to slice the deficit to two goals. Newly-minted CAA Player of the Year and Tewaaraton Trophy candidate senior Ben McIntosh scored another Dragon goal six minutes later to cut the deficit to one.
The Dragons were rolling, but they hit a bump on the comeback trail. What was an 8-7 game soon became a 10-7 Pride lead with five minutes remaining following unassisted goals by Hofstra’s Lance Yapor and Mike Malave.
That three-goal lead, however, lasted all of 23 seconds.
An enormously important goal by Shafer assisted by McIntosh brought the momentum back to Drexel’s side with 4:37 to play.
A goal from Trizano—his third of the game — a little over a minute later brought the fans and the sideline back into it, and suddenly the Dragons only trailed by one, 10-9, with three minutes remaining.
Thirty seconds later, the Dragons had once again done it.
Belka, who scored the game winner in double overtime against Towson University in the semifinals, rifled an unassisted bullet to tie the game at 10 with 2:45 to play.
The Dragons had closed a seemingly insurmountable deficit and were sending the game to overtime for the second straight game, looking for their eighth straight win and first-ever NCAA berth.
The first two overtimes passed like a blur, with both teams having chances but eventually being thwarted by the opponents’stalwart defenses. Notably, sophomore Will Gabrielsen had multiple huge saves in the extra time periods to save the season.
Then, in the third overtime, the moment came.
The Dragons possessed the ball with around four minutes remaining in the period, passing it around as Hofstra frantically looked for a turnover. With 3:17 remaining, sophomore Jules Raucci found an open Shafer, who launched a rocket from the left wing past Hofstra goaltender Chris Selva.
The gloves came off, the sticks flew in the air and it was finally a sealed deal —the freshman sensation Shafer had sent the Dragons to their first NCAA Tournament ever and sent this team officially into the depths of our hearts.
Sunday, May 4, the Dragons watched the selection show on ESPNU and waited for their first round matchup to be announced. It’s a match made in the City of Brotherly Love.
The Dragons will face the University of Pennsylvania at Franklin FieldMay 11 at 3 p.m. in a battle for West Philadelphia supremacy in what is essentially a home game for the Quakers.
When asked about the importance of home field play, Voelker focused on the positives, but noted that some negatives come with it.
“We’d love to have the guys experience some new things and stay in a hotel and be fully immersed,”Voelker said.“But it’s definitely more positive than not. We’re extremely excited to have the students and alumni and parents [come] out to support us. It’s extremely important.”
The Quakers will be a tough challenge for the Dragons, coming in ranked fourth overall after winning the Ivy League title.
But this team has shown an inability to let their opponent phase them and a determination to win by any means necessary.
Sunday they will try to do it one more time.