By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 2/16/08
Last year the Drexel Dragons shocked the lacrosse world with an early-season upset. Can lightning strike twice?
That’s the question as the Dragons, the 18th-ranked team in Division I, open their season Sunday at home against No. 3 Virginia at 2 p.m. on a game that will be shown on CN8.
In 2007 Drexel opened its season at Virginia, the defending NCAA champions. All the Dragons did was triumph, 11-10, as freshman Colin Ambler (Abington graduate) scored twice in the final 10 seconds.
Drexel went on to enjoy an 11-5 season, tied for the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) regular-season title (5-1) and nearly claimed its first NCAA tournament berth.
This year Drexel heads into the season with even higher expectations and a number of season veterans, including eight returning starters.
Three different Drexel players were selected by Inside Lacrosse in its preseason positional rankings: Steve Grossi (Strath Haven), Bruce Bickford and Kevin Dart.
Grossi, a co-captain for the second straight year, was picked as the sixth best longstick midfielder in the nation. He was a First Team All-CAA pick a year ago and was a Second Team pick as a freshman and sophomore.
Bickford is coming off an outstanding year in the cage for the Dragons. The senior was ranked as the ninth best goalkeeper entering the 2008 season. Bickford was eighth in the nation in goals against average a year ago and led the CAA and was ninth nationally in save percentage at .590. He was a First Team All-CAA selection last season.
Dart is just a junior but is already one of the team’s co-captains. He was selected as the 10th best defensive midfielder by Inside Lacrosse. Dart was the recipient of the Coaches’ Award last year and scored a pair of man-down goals.
Andrew Chapman, an all-league performer in 2007, led the league with 53 points on 42 goals and 11 assists in 16 games last season. Ambler, last year’s CAA Rookie of the Year, scored 22 goals and had 13 assists. Two other valuable returnees are senior defender Brian McWilliams and junior middie Jon Van Houten.
Drexel was narrowly picked to capture the CAA Men’s Lacrosse Championship in 2008 according to a vote of the league’s seven head coaches. The Dragons received three first-place votes and a total of 33 points, just one better than Towson’s total of 32.
Also from the Philadelphia area that will play key roles are sophomore defender Matt McCormick (Malvern Prep), sophomore middie Greg Casey (La Salle) and junior attacker Ron Garling (Ridley). Garling was third on the team in goals with 18 last year while Casey had seven goals and eight assists.
Penn – The Quakers are looking to better their 6-7 mark (3-3 in the Ivy League) of 2007 with the return of nine starters and 20 lettermen. Honorable mention All-American Craig Andrzejewski leads the attack after collecting 24 goals and 25 assists last year. He is supported by junior attacker Casey O’Rourke (Haverford School), who was third on the team with 12 goals and 8 assists.
The Quakers will rely on junior middies Garvey Heiderman, J.J. Lian and Drew Collins while senior Max Mauro heads the defense and sophomore goalie Chris Casey impressed last year after taking over as the starter for the final nine games of the season.
Villanova – The Wildcats were a respectable 7-7 last year, but will face a challenge to compete for a playoff berth in the strong Colonial Athletic Association against powers Delaware, Drexel and Towson.
The offense features senior Chris MacDonald while Chris Aitken (Haverford School), a freshman who was an All-American last year, is a top recruit.
At midfield, senior Tim Atkins (Malvern Prep) had 18 goals and is joined by junior Dan Liva (Malvern Prep) and sophomore R.J. Lyons (Penn Charter).
On defense, junior Gregg Safran is the top longstick middie and junior two-year starter Ed DiDonato (La Salle) is the top defender. Sophomore Bryan McCartney (Archbishop Wood) enjoyed a standout freshman year and should be a key factor after making the all-rookie team.
St. Joseph’s – The Hawks went 6-12 last year, but tied for second in the Middle Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) with a 5-3 mark.
Senior attacker Steve Varga (Strath Haven) heads the offense after scoring 24 goals last year. Varga had three goals and three assists in last week’s 18-10 season-opening loss to Delaware. Alex Lopes is the top playmaker.
Freshman middie Scott Cullinan (West Chester East), the son of coach Pat Cullinan, erupted for four goals in the loss. Junior Steve O’Brien and junior Chris Dudley are keys at midfield while senior captain Patrick Moxey leads the defense Also in reserve is Scott’s older brother, senior Sean Cullinan (West Chester East).
Coach Cullinan is in his third year as head coach, and fourth year overall at St. Joseph’s. He previously spent 15 years at West Chester, the final four as the Rams head coach, twice earning New York Collegiate Athletic Conference Coach of the Year honors.