The 2014 season is months away. Let's punch fate in the face and make wild assumptions about what could be the best 20 teams in the country next year.
Important People: Ben McIntosh (M); Frank Fusco (A); Nick Trizano (A); Ryan Belka (M); Nick Saputo (FOGO); Cal Winkelman (G); Pat Root (D); Tyler Houchins (D); Matt Dusek (D)
Formerly Important People: Robert Church (A); Aaron Prosser (M); Chris Walsh (D); Garrett McIntosh (SSDM)
Final 2013 Poll Positions: Media: 19; Coaches: 18
2013 Record: 11-4 (5-1, THUNDERDOME!)
2013 Snapshot: Kaboom!
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Existence has a way of evening out over time; course correction, for whatever reason, is an inherent part of reality. Drexel is potentially staring that directly in the face in 2014: After generating 11 wins in a season where the Dragon's production projected only around eight victories (thanks, in part, to an invincibility in the fourth quarter wherein Drexel would become a superteam capable of toppling despotic regimes), the Dragons -- if things don't change going into the coming spring -- could be tempting the Fates. The focus is on the Dragons' defense, a unit that finished 2013 ranked just 48th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, a ceiling limiter for Drexel last year. Now, the Dragons return all kinds of assets to the defensive end of the field in 2014 (assets that earned valuable experience in 2013), but the issue remains: If Drexel doesn't improve its efforts at stopping its opposition, the Dragons potentially put themselves in a position where a .500-type season can gestate despite rolling with an offense that has top 10 potential. The focus of Drexel's defensive concerns are layered, but there are two primary points of pain: (1) The quality of shots that Drexel's defense is permitting, specifically in how the Dragons allow the opposition to share the bean and generate assisted scoring opportunities; and (2) The growth and development of Drexel's play within the crease, specifically the maturation of redshirt sophomore Cal Winkelman (the keeper wasn't horrendous in his 11 starts in 2013, but if he can get his save percentage closer to 55 percent rather than 50 percent while also carrying a strong responsibility to end defensive opportunities with saves, the better -- in the overall -- Drexel's defense becomes). There are reasons for optimism that the Dragons' defense will take a step forward in 2014, but until it actually does so, concerns linger as to the fortitude of the unit and how it will impact Drexel in totem.
A Thousand White Doves
Brian Voelker is potentially entering the coming season with a tactical nuclear weapon on his hands. Drexel is dangerous, a team with a nice balance of underclass and upperclass contributors that gutted out quality efforts in 2013 and learned how to win. All the pieces that you want to see in a contender that sets small explosions and walks away unscathed are there for Voelker this year:
- Saputo, a cat that drew at 54.4 percent in 2013 and took all but 50 faceoffs for the Dragons last season, returns for his junior campaign. He was a driver in Drexel's strong possession margin a year ago, and he'll have the opportunity to create similarly preferable situations for the Dragons again in 2014.
- Returning to anchor an offense that finished eighth last season in adjusted offensive efficiency are attackmen Fusco and Trizano (the former just a sophomore and the latter an indispensible senior for the Dragons), and a midfield unit that features McIntosh (who just scratched the surface of his ability last year) and Belka, two horses that wreak havoc and are capable of carrying a heavy load. The losses of Church and Prosser are difficult holes to fill -- they combined for 83 points in 2013 and both had skill attributes that soared -- but there is still a strong core remaining that will serve as the Dragons' power plant. And if Brendan Glynn can return. . . .
- Voelker has the defensive pedigree that creates comfort around the assumed growth of Drexel's defensive unit, moving past an ugly-ish campaign last year. As a former defensive coordinator for Bill Tierney at Princeton (not to mention two stints as a Team USA defensemen after graduating from Hopkins as a three-time All-American), Voelker's defensive chops are on point; Voelker has a history that indicates that development is coming for the Dragons on the defensive end. With tons of defensive contributors returning for the looming spring -- Dusek, Root, Houchins, Winkelman, Jason Klunder, etc. -- there are assets in place that saw important action in 2013 and are poised for stronger efforts (with continued guidance) in 2014.
The Stars, The Moon, Six Feet Under
The Stars: The defense steps on necks and provides a balance to Drexel's universe that allows the Dragons to stomp their way to a THUNDERDOME! title and an NCAA Tournament that features some skull-crushing; Ben McIntosh earns the McLaughlin Award; Voelker actually breathes fire and is cast in Game of Thrones.
The Moon: Top two in THUNDERDOME!; strong NCAA Tournament bubble team if the automatic invitation doesn't work out; a handful of high profile wins, including dropping Penn State; defense needs the early season to find its groove before settling in; four core offensive players get decent -- but not exemplary -- contributions from a rotating cast of characters.
Six Feet Under: Defense proves impotent, yielding goals at a rate that Drexel's offense can't surpass; Drexel can't find a finisher to replace Church and the offense stagnates; Voelker actually breathes fire and dies because humans can't have fire inside of them; struggles to earn a spot in the THUNDERDOME! Tournament after mucking it up with the meaty middle of the league; is the third best team in Philadelphia behind Pennsylvania and Villanova.