Hard work at the core of Drexel's lacrosse success

Posted: May 23, 2014

Although it has never hit the local sports radar the way it did this spring with its first NCAA tournament run, the Drexel men's lacrosse program has been playing in West Philadelphia for 72 seasons.

This season, however, which ended Sunday in the tournament quarterfinals, when heavily favored Denver ran off eight unanswered goals on the way to a 15-6 victory, was replete with firsts for the Dragons.

Drexel (13-5) matched its season high in victories and won the Colonial Athletic Association tournament for the first time. The Dragons became just the second Drexel program to reach the quarterfinals in anything.

"We know what we did this season," said Ben McIntosh, Colonial Athletic Association player of the year. "We're proud of ourselves. We worked hard all season long and took this program someplace it has never been."

The Division I men's lacrosse final four in Baltimore will begin with the semifinals Saturday and conclude Monday with the championship game.

Part of Drexel's recent success can be attributed to an influx of players from Western Canada, particularly Coquitlam, British Columbia. McIntosh, whose 48 goals were a school record and the most by any midfielder in the country, followed his older brother, Garrett, to Drexel. Robert Church, also from Coquitlam, starred at Drexel before being drafted fifth overall last year by the Edmonton Rush of Canada's National Lacrosse League.

Freshman Cole Shafer, also from Coquitlam, scored the game-winning goal in the Dragons' triple-overtime win over Hofstra in the conference championship game. The goal was his fifth in the Dragons' 11-10 victory.

"A lot of Canadian players realize that coming to the United States is a great way to get an education," said McIntosh, a two-time all-CAA first-team selection. "I had my brother and Robert here, so coming to Drexel was a pretty easy decision."

McIntosh was joined on the first team by teammates Ryan Belka, Matt Dusek, Nick Saputo, and Nick Trizano.

Coach Brian Voelker joined Drexel in 2009, after seven seasons coaching Penn. In 2004, he led the Quakers to their first NCAA appearance in 15 years.

"When I decided to take the job at Drexel, I left Penn with no hard feelings at all," Voelker said before the Dragon's 16-11 victory over Penn in the first round of this season's NCAA tournament. "But I recognized that there was an opportunity to do some things at Drexel that I might not have been able to accomplish at Penn. If you look at the success Penn has had since I left, I think you can say safely that it's worked out fine for both of us."

The Drexel program Voelker inherited was not bad. In the previous three seasons under Chris Bates, Drexel was 31-17. In 2008, the Dragons were ranked as high as No. 15 nationally, winning 13 games and tying this year's team for the most wins in a single season. They lost to Hofstra in overtime for what could have been their first CAA conference championship.

In five seasons under Voelker, a native of Baltimore, Drexel has gone 50-28. They have reached the conference semifinals in four of those seasons.

"It's been about their willingness to work more than anything," Voelker said about the Dragons' success. "They work hard, and they understand the rewards you reap from that."



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