The Drexel men’s lacrosse team kicks off its season Feb. 15 at Vidas Field against the No. 7 University of Virginia Cavaliers.
Virginia is looking to bounce back strong from a 7-8 season last year and they have already won close games against Loyola University Maryland and the University of Richmond. Yet they only managed to beat Richmond by a single goal, which is interesting considering it was Richmond’s first ever men’s Division I lacrosse game. This seems to bode well for Drexel, as it appears Virginia may be starting the year slowly despite its undefeated record.
However, if history is any indication, this Virginia team is not to be taken lightly early in the season. The Cavaliers started last year strong, going 5-1 in their first six games before the middle of their season brought them up against steep competition, including the eventual NCAA champion Duke University Blue Devils.
The Dragons and Cavaliers face off every year to start the season, and this pairing has been decidedly negative for Drexel as of late. The Blue and Gold haven’t pulled out a victory in their annual opening day matchup with Virginia since 2007.
Though the head-to-head record is strongly skewed toward the Cavaliers’ side, the results haven’t been quite so one-sided. The last two matchups have ended as one-goal games and last year’s competition required overtime play to decide the winner. Drexel must be itching to pull out a victory and start off its season with an impressive win against a good team.
After last year’s fairly successful — but ultimately disappointing — season, the Dragons almost certainly have a chip on their shoulder to show the lacrosse world what they can do and start their quest to finally win the CAA Championship and make the NCAA Tournament.
They also need to work to fill the hole left by graduated attacker Robert Church, who led the team in scoring last year. In an interview with The Triangle, head coach Brian Voelker described the team’s approach to fill this void.
“You’re probably not going to have one person make that up,” Voelker said of the team’s offense-by-committee approach. “We have some young guys at the attack that have done a good job, and Cole Shafer is probably the immediate guy that will play the way Robert did.”
He also went on to describe the role of preseason second team All-American Ben McIntosh as exceedingly important. McIntosh was drafted by the Denver Outlaws in the Major League Lacrosse draft this year and plans to enter the league when eligible.
The Dragons are currently unranked in the national polls and start the season with four of their first five games coming against ranked teams. If they manage to escape this stretch of record winning three or more games, they likely will find themselves ranked, as they were for most of last season.
Voelker also stated that he thinks the team has a chip on its shoulder this season due to the fact that the players feel like they’re being underrated in the preseason rankings. Junior midfielder Ryan Belka feels the same way.
“We want to come out and prove to people that we are good enough,” Belka said when asked about his team’s preseason rankings. He and McIntosh both reiterated that the team’s goal for the season is to win the CAA and make the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history.
But all and all, the fact that the lacrosse world doubts the team isn’t something they are worrying about, as Drexel hopes to have made improvements to the weak aspects of their game. The Dragons will continue to start goalie Cal Winkelman, and their defense only lost two seniors from last year, meaning that their defensive core will likely be the same players as last year.
As their defense and goalie play constantly interfered with their ability to win games last year, Drexel’s main problem potentially could plague the team again this year. The upside? The defense is older and more experienced, specifically Winkelman, who is now has a year of college play under his belt.
The team starts the year against stiff competition in undefeated Virginia, offensive juggernaut the University at Albany, State University of New York and No. 20 Villanova University in their first three games. Albany in particular seems to stand out as a potentially problematic opponent. They are ranked No. 10 in the nation and are coming off a year in which their offense was ranked first in the country in goals scored per game. If any team is going to expose the Dragons’ poor defense, it will be the Great Danes.
Within the CAA, the competition once again is stiff. The Pennsylvania State University wiped the floor with its competition last year, and Towson University also looks poised to make a run in the conference. Penn State ended the season 6-0 within the conference, winning the CAA in the regular season and advancing to the NCAA Tournament. The Nittany Lions are ranked No. 9 in the country and will be the main obstacle between the Dragons and an NCAA berth.
Last year in the first round of the CAA tournament, Towson defeated Drexel, who had garnered a No. 2 seed. Towson was inferior to Drexel throughout the regular season, but managed to put together a great game when it counted, ending Drexel’s season with an 11-8 victory.
The Dragons’ 2014 journey begins Saturday at Vidas Field at 1 p.m.