Dragons' dream season ends

Posted: May 20, 2014

NEWARK, Del. - Later on, as time passes and the other things in life become more important than a game, the players on the Drexel lacrosse team will undoubtedly have a greater appreciation for what they accomplished during their historic 2014 season.

But yesterday, in the moments after losing, 15-6, to second-ranked Denver University in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division I Men's Lacrosse Tournament, it was still too painful to look beyond what had happened on Tubby Raymond Field at the University of Delaware.

Somewhere during the scoring barrage by Denver (16-2) that turned a promising start by Drexel (13-5) into a desperate struggle, the Dragons lost the essence of the things that had brought the program to its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament.

Somehow during the eight straight goals the Pioneers rolled off to end the first half, Drexel committed all of the little mistakes it knew it could not afford to make against a team that had won 12 consecutive games - including the last seven by an average of seven goals.

Later on in life, when the significance of being just the second Drexel sports program to reach the quarterfinals of an NCAA Tournament will be something to be celebrated, the regret of not playing their best with a spot in the Final Four at stake will hurt a little less.

Yesterday, however, was not yet later on in life.

"You're never going to be happy when you lose the last game of your career," said Drexel senior midfielder Ben McIntosh, the Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Year. "We know what we did this season. We're proud of ourselves. We worked hard all year and took this program someplace it has never been.

"To an extent, you are proud, but it is always disappointing to lose in the last game . . . The ride was fun and to see it come to a halt this quickly was tough."

The way things started for Drexel gave little indication how things would deteriorate.

Before the 7,222 fans - including three buses full of Drexel students who had come down I-95 from Philadelphia - had fully settled in, McIntosh had put the Dragons up, 1-0.

Then Drexel led 2-0 just 3 minutes in, and even after Denver tied the score, a goal by Nick Trizano put the Dragons up, 3-2.

There was no indication that it was all about to fall apart.

"We were in the game," Trizano said. "We were expecting a good game, but Denver just did all of the right things."

On the ensuing faceoff after Trizano's goal, Dragons midfielder Nick Saputo was flagged for a violation. It was his third of the first period.

Winning the faceoff battle was crucial to Drexel's chances. Saputo had ranked fourth in the nation, winning better than 63 percent.

But a faceoff violation can mess with you. Anticipation is a big part of being successful and if violations make you hesitant, it alters everything.

Drexel lost 16 of 23 faceoffs.

"To be honest, I felt faceoffs were called differently today than at any time all year," Drexel coach Brian Voelker said. "I'm not exactly sure why. [Saputo] is a guy that when he gets into a groove is a huge weapon for us.

"He wasn't able to get into a groove for whatever reason."

Controlling the pace of play was vital against a second-ranked Denver team that averaged 13.18 goals.

Drexel could not keep the ball out of the sticks of the Pioneers during a nearly 30-minute run when it was outscored 10-0.

"When [Denver] is controlling the ball, you can't get it into the offensive zone so you can attack," McIntosh said. "It was tough and it was frustrating.

"We were up 3-2 and we're all excited to get into the game. You feel like something is going to happen. Then they start scoring and scoring. You don't see the ball and that kind of takes the wind out of your sails."

Later on in life, when family and work dominate life, the magic of the 2014 lacrosse season will be a fond memory for all of the Dragons who helped elevate the program to the next level.

But yesterday was still about lacrosse, and right then, lacrosse still hurt.

"You hope this is a building block," Voelker said. "I'm proud of the season that our team had, but I'm bummed the way it ended.

"In general, it was a great season and a ton of credit goes to the kids, all the time and effort they put into it.

"I feel great about the kids and the team and the things that they accomplished. I just don't feel too good right now."

Email: smallwj@phillynews.com

Columns: ph.ly/Smallwood

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