No Need For a Reset Year at Drexel

(Photo Courtesy of Drexel Athletics)

The Drexel Dragons’ 2021 season ended in heartbreak in Denver in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. After putting together one of their best stands both offensively and defensively of the season, the Dragons came back from a 7-3 halftime deficit and tied things up at 8 with 12:50 remaining in regulation. However, after holding Notre Dame scoreless for nearly 30 minutes the Irish broke the ice with Wheaton Jackoboice and Morrison Mirer each scoring in the final 1:19 of the game to secure the 10-8 win and end the Dragons’ season.

Notre Dame’s narrow defeat of Drexel ended one of the best seasons in program history for Brian Voelker’s squad. Drexel went 10-3 (6-2 CAA) and won the CAA title for the second time in program history. And they came within two points of practically replicating their 2014 campaign in which the Dragons upset Penn in the NCAA first round before faltering to Denver in the quarterfinals.

After winning out in perhaps the craziest conference race of the season last spring, Drexel comes into the 2022 season with a clear target on their back as defending CAA champions. And while repeating as champions is always a difficult task, with as much talent as the Dragons return it’s not crazy to think they could possibly achieve it. If anything, Drexel has the talent to be, at least, a serious CAA title contender once again.

The Dragons ended last spring with the nation’s 12th-ranked scoring offense (13.62 goals per game), along with Bryant, as well as being a top-25 team in both team shooting percentage (.299) and assists per game (7.54). Simply put, this offense was running like clockwork. Man-up offense was the only area where they even remotely struggled, converting on 30% of their chances last season.

A big piece of the Dragons’ success on offense, not only in 2021 but in years prior, can be contributed to the play of attackman Reid Bowering and midfielder Collin Mailman. Bowering, who had a rough start to the season that included one-point performances and missing four games mid-March through early April, ended the year with 28 points off 25 goals and three assists. That included a five-goal performance against Hofstra in the CAA title game and a four-goal outing against Notre Dame in the NCAA Tournament. Mailman started in all 13 games and ended the season with 11 points off seven goals and four assists.

Both Bowering and Mailman have been mainstays of this Dragons offense for five years and will be very difficult to replace. While 2021 wasn’t a banner year from start to finish for either, the consistency each showed year-to-year as starters was impressive and provided a solid backbone for the Drexel offense to be able to thrive the way they did.

Despite losing the two aforementioned veterans, the Dragons return a boatload of talent on the offensive end that helps soften the blow the two losses deliver. Sean Donnelly transferred in from Syracuse last season and found his rhythm as a redshirt freshman, leading the Dragons with 46 points off 26 goals and 20 assists. Quarterbacking from all over the field, the 6-foot-2 attackman cemented himself as the future of this Drexel offense in 2021 and looks to be able to be the alpha attackman for this unit again in 2022.

Surrounding Donnelly in 2022 will be a very strong and familiar supporting cast with Aidan Coll (33G/11A) and Ryan Genord (20G/12A) back for an extra season, while Jack Mulcahy (19G/11A) and Sean Curico (4G/2A) return for their senior and sophomore seasons. Coll was the Dragons’ second-leading scorer in 2021 while Genord and Mulcahy were top-five scorers. Curico saw action in all 13 games with three starts as one of the Dragons’ top reserve midfielders.

While there are some question marks around just who Drexel will plug in for the losses of Bowering and Mailman, one thing is for sure: the core of this offense is full of weapons. From the sheer vision and feel for the game Donnelly showed last season as a natural quarterback attackman to the elite off-ball play and finishing ability of Coll, the duo is exciting to watch go to work and with the cast of characters returning around them we could witness more of the same out of this offense in 2022.

Defensively, the Dragons were much improved last season. After allowing around 12.5 goals per game in each of the prior three seasons (2018, 2019, 2020), Drexel allowed an average of 10.6 goals per game in 2021 and ended the season as the 22nd-ranked scoring defense in the nation. They also ranked 15th in caused turnovers per game (8.69). And practically everybody from that highly-regarded defense last season returns in 2022.

Sean Quinn served as the Dragons’ top pole last season, leading the team in caused turnovers (21) while being second in ground balls with 41. Patrick Udovich ended the year with 12 caused turnovers and 11 ground balls while Brennan Greenwald scooped up 24 ground balls and caused eight caused turnovers. Quinn and Greenwald started all 13 games last season while Udovich saw action in 11 games with 10 starts.

In addition to their entire close defense returning, SSDM George Grippo (17GB/18CT) and LSM Jack Farrell (21GB/11CT) come back after being the leaders of a solid rope unit for the Dragons last season. The defensive midfield especially played a huge role in their transition success and in the overall clearing game, where the Dragons converted 87% of the time and ended the season as the 18th-ranked clearing team in the nation.

The biggest returnee for the Dragon is goalie Ross Blumenthal. The now three-year starter put together a wildly impressive junior campaign in 2021, making 133 saves with a 49% save percentage. In the NCAA Tournament first round, he really shined, making 15 saves with a 62% save percentage against a top-10 offense in Notre Dame. A starter since his freshman season, Blumenthal anchoring this defense provides a cherry on top for a unit that after taking a step forward last season, could do much of the same again this spring.

With as many players back from last year’s squad, there aren’t many visible holes on this roster heading into 2022. However, one of the biggest is right in the middle of the field at the faceoff dot. Jimmeh Koita served as Drexel’s top faceoff man for five seasons and ended his career with a 2021 campaign that saw him go 140-for-284 (49%). The only two returners at the position who saw significant action last season are junior Mark Hartmann and Anthony Rosato, who each saw action in just five games last season.

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