Ancient Greek storyteller Aesop famously constructed the phrase “Familiarity breeds contempt.” It is unlikely that he had NCAA men’s lacrosse in mind when he first uttered those words of wisdom, but they certainly apply to the rivalry between Drexel University and the University of Virginia.
For the 13th consecutive season, the Dragons and Cavaliers will open the season against one another, but thus far the results have been one-sided. Virginia holds an 11-1 advantage in the all-time series, with the only Drexel victory coming in 2007 when the Dragons used two goals by Colin Ambler in the final 10 seconds to stun the No. 1 Cavaliers by a score of 11-10.
The 2013 version of the rivalry will take place Feb. 16 in Charlottesville, Va., which is a notoriously difficult place to play for the away team. However, head coach Brian Voelker believes his team is ready to take on the challenge.
“UVA is a tough team. We’ve had this first game as a bull’s-eye for a long time now,” Voelker said. “We’re expecting to roll up our sleeves and come out with a win.”
Drexel will have to do so without some key players from last season’s team, which advanced all the way to the Colonial Athletic Association Finals. Former defenders Dana Wilber and Brian Teuber, midfielder Kyle Bergman and goalie Mark Manos played in all 16 games for the Dragons last season, but senior midfielder Aaron Prosser is confident that his teammates will be up to the task.
“We should have some breakout players all over the field,” Prosser said. “Offensively, [junior midfielder] Ben McIntosh is somebody who could make a big jump from last year, but whoever is our goalie will hopefully step up the most.”
With Manos having graduated, the starting goalie spot is up for grabs between sophomore Dan Rodgers and freshmen Henry Buonagurio, Will Gabrielsen and Cal Winkelman. Rodgers suffered an injury in preseason and has not been practicing as of late, so the other three have been competing to earn the starting nod against the Cavaliers.
“All three have had a good preseason, and it’s really been a battle,” Voelker said. “We’re going to announce to the team on Friday who it will be as the starter.”
Still, Drexel expects to have a high-powered offense with the likes of Prosser, McIntosh, sophomore midfielder Ryan Belka, senior Robert Church, senior attack Brendan Glynn and sophomore attack Andrew Vivian, who were six of the top seven scorers last season.
Church, the team’s leading scorer in 2012 with 29 goals and 18 assists, was named to the preseason CAA All-Conference team. The attack from Coquitlam, British Columbia, has 88 goals and 49 assists as a Dragon for a total of 137 career points, which is good enough for 14th all-time at the school.
“We definitely are more experienced on the offensive end,” Voelker said. “We lost some depth and experience from last year, but we have some really talented kids on the offensive end of the field.”
But the worry for the Dragons this season will not be how many goals they score but how many they allow. In the 2012 season-ending loss in the CAA Finals to the No. 1 University of Massachusetts, Drexel notched 12 goals but conceded a season-high 18 as they fell to the Minutemen.
With the losses of Wilber and Teuber on the back end, sophomore defender Matt Dusek will be expected to lead the Dragons’ defense. Junior Tyler Houchins, who appeared in all 16 games last season, will most likely fill one of the vacancies, while the other is up for grabs.
“Defensively we’re still growing,” Voelker said. “We’re younger on the defensive end, but we have a lot of enthusiasm, and our guys have worked really hard.”
Even after finishing with a disappointing 8-8 record in 2012, Drexel was picked to finish tied for third with Hofstra University in the preseason CAA standings behind UMass and The Pennsylvania State University. While a bronze medal is respectable, the Dragons have much higher goals for the upcoming season, as they hope for the 2013 season to be their breakout campaign.
“This year’s goals are the same as they were last year; to win the CAA and make the NCAA Tournament,” Voelker said. “They are lofty goals, but the pieces are in place, and that’s what we want to accomplish.”
Drexel is not ranked in the top 20 of any of the four preseason polls, but the fact remains that the men’s lacrosse team will be one of the most exciting tickets on campus this spring. There is surely a buzz around this high-powered team felt by the student body and players.
“All we’ve thought about for the last five months was this game, and it’s finally here,” Prosser said. “We can’t be more excited to get the season started.”