February 28, 2014

NCAA Notes: Drexel's Early Tightrope Act 

by Gary Lambrecht | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter | Lambrecht Archive

In three games this season, Drexel has played three one-goal thrillers, starting 1-2 on the year. (John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com)

The Drexel Dragons have grown quite accustomed to walking the tightrope that has become so familiar in collegiate lacrosse.

A year ago, the Dragons won five of six one-goal, regular-season decisions. They abruptly had their playoff hopes dashed by late-charging Towson, 11-8, in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament championship game.

If the beginning of the 2014 season serves as a tone setter for what lies ahead this spring, it's going to be a nail-biting ride for the Dragons, who have the stuff to win the CAA and play into late May.

After dropping a gut-wrenching, 11-10, overtime decision at Villanova on a frigid Tuesday night in Philly, Drexel is 1-2. Every one of the Dragons' first three games has come down to the slimmest of margins.

There was the near-miss in the season opener against Virginia, which outlasted Drexel, 11-10. The Dragons followed that with a gutty, 14-13 victory at Albany, which had just dropped a one-goal thriller at Syracuse in its season opener.

The morning after the loss to the Wildcats, Drexel coach Brian Voelker sounded the torturous tune of self-flagellation.

"We let one get away last night, and it drives you crazy," said Voelker, who watched the Dragons blow a 10-8 fourth-quarter lead, before shooting 0-for-3 in OT and failing in a huge, extra-man situation that preceded Austin Frederick's game-winning goal with 54 seconds left.

"I'm kicking myself because I had some timeouts in my pocket when we were in extra man with two minutes left. But I didn't want [Nova] to have time to set up with [LSM standout John] Locascio. I'm kicking myself because we probably shouldn't have been playing Villanova on a Tuesday night after they had a 10-day layoff. We have the pieces to be really good. We weren't good enough last night."

With senior attackman Nick Trizano (eight goals in 2014) limited by a sore hamstring in the windy, 22-degree chill, Drexel nearly stole one from Villanova after being outshot, 57-34. Gabrielsen made eight of his 16 saves in the first quarter and lifted the Dragons to a 5-3 lead.

Don't expect Drexel to go away. The Dragons, who host Robert Morris on Saturday, have too much firepower and too much heart. But Voelker sees their stressful journey in February as illustrative of the parity that continues to dominate the sport.

"The bottom line is there isn't a lot that separates teams ranked from five to 20," he said. "My immediate message to our team is we're 1-2 and we've got to be 2-2. It's that simple."

Johns Hopkins Enters Phase Two

Stage two of the journey for Johns Hopkins kicks in Saturday, when the Blue Jays (3-0) travel to Princeton to renew a long-standing rivalry. A year after missing the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1971, the Blue Jays have had solid results thus far with a new midfield rotation and a new-look offense under coordinator Bobby Benson, who has installed a system heavy on screens and pick-and-roll movement.

Hopkins has out-scored Ohio State, Towson and Michigan by a combined 39-22. It overcame slow starts before knocking off OSU and Towson, then scored nine of the game's first 10 goals against the overmatched Wolverines before coasting to a 14-5 win.

"We're still not as organized as we need to be. We're still not making all of the right reads and setting screens the way we need to be. Our middies are still developing their personality," said Blue Jays coach Dave Pietramala, who will go after his 151st victory in his 14th year at Homewood.

With faceoff man Drew Kennedy winning 67.8 percent of his draws and attackman Wells Stanwick (13 assists) fueling the offense, the Blue Jays will need to improve their pedestrian 29.3 percent shooting as the schedule ramps up in March.

Rough Winter Fuels Talk of Later Start

As the endlessly fierce winter rages on in much of the country, with countless games being played in freezing temperatures framed by snow that refuses to melt, the chatter continues regarding how to address early-scheduling concerns that affect the sport.

One idea that continues to percolate in some circles is to start more uniformly in mid-to-late February, convince more schools to stack their first month with midweek games to maintain a more even playing field, and extend the NCAA playoffs into June.

Then again, getting the sport's coaches to adopt such groupthink is quite a challenge. Many would rather start earlier, and stretch out the year with more one-game weeks and avoid the likelihood of an increase in injuries.

"Every year at our convention, we talk about how to stop the season from starting earlier and earlier. But nothing gets done about it," Albany coach Scott Marr said.

"If everybody had to play two games a week for the first month of the season, moving the schedule back wouldn't be an issue," Drexel coach Brian Voelker said. "If we keep hearing the term 'polar vortex,' we might be able to get something done on this."

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