When the brackets were released for the NCAA Tournament last Sunday, ESPN’s analysts immediately shrugged off Penn men’s lacrosse, saying the Quakers were overrated and overseeded at No. 4 overall.
Questions about Penn’s resume had surrounded the Red and Blue all season as they found ways to key, close victories and a high RPI (No. 2 in the nation) but didn’t have the convincing wins against top opponents.
So with No. 13 Drexel coming into Franklin Field and pulling off a convincing 16-11 upset of the Red and Blue, it would be easy to think that the bracket was flawed and Penn’s resume didn’t quite stand up to the all-important ‘eye-test.’
But watching Sunday’s Drexel victory, it wasn’t Penn who proved its ranking wrong. Instead, it was the Dragons passing the ‘eye-test’ with flying colors and proving themselves as a strong competitor.
Penn started out as the superior squad, dominating possession for much of the first half. The Quakers would have been able to extend their lead to more than two goals if it wasn’t for the masterful play of sophomore goalkeeper Will Gabrielsen, who stopped five shots in the first quarter alone.
And with just over a minute left in the first half, the tide turned. It was subtle, a simple face-off win by Drexel junior midfield Nick Saputo, but slowly the flood gates opened. One goal by Drexel’s Jules Raucci. Then Saputo scored two goals in 11 seconds and just like that, a two-goal Penn lead was a one-goal deficit at the half.
From there, Drexel won with three keys that are important to any team hoping for a long run in the NCAA Tournament: face-offs, goaltending and a balanced offensive attack.
Penn still had a chance, down four goals heading into the fourth quarter, a deficit that Penn has overcome with ease this year. But Drexel ultimately rode its three keys to victory.
“We’ve been fortunate to have some comebacks this year so we were comfortable down four goals going into the fourth quarter,” sophomore attack Nick Doktor said. “We’ve been there before. We weren’t rattled, we were just trying to make the next play.
“Credit to Drexel. They played strong in the fourth quarter, continued their run.”
Of course, Penn wasn’t at its best. Coach Mike Murphy said as much in the postgame press conference. But looking at Penn’s faults in this game would take the spotlight off a dominating performance from an impressive Dragons squad.
“It wasn’t our sharpest day offensively or defensively or otherwise, but a lot of that is due to the effort and play of Drexel,” Murphy said.
And while the national media will say Penn didn’t live up to its seed, that idea would discredit all that Penn did this year.
It isn’t overrated to win eight straight games en route to your first Ivy League Tournament title. It isn’t overrated to get big wins over Cornell, Harvard, Denver and Yale, regardless of how close the final score was.
It certainly isn’t overrated to use key senior leadership from guys like goalkeeper Brian Feeney, defenseman Maxx Meyer and midfielder Zack Losco to get your program to its first home NCAA Tournament game in 26 years.
“I’m very proud of our seniors,” Murphy said. “I just said to them in the locker room that I feel like they left Penn lacrosse much better than they found it and that they should feel good about that and not focus on the way it ended.”
There wasn’t any shame in that loss. It was simply a Drexel team flinging off the concept of seeding and proving itself in front of a national audience.
This was an impressive season for the Red and Blue that shouldn’t soon be forgotten and while it ended with a loss, the lasting memory should be an impressive crowd cheering on an impressive team that lost to a team with a little more momentum.
With that in mind, the resume looks a lot better for Penn men’s lacrosse.