When the hurt dissipates with time, it's likely the Drexel men's lacrosse players will think back to the aftermath of last night's loss to Delaware in the Colonial Athletic Association semifinals and realize how they thrilled their followers during a marvelous season.
As the Dragons filed toward their locker room at Vidas Field after an 11-7 loss to the Blue Hens, their heads hung low, many in the upbeat crowd of about 1,500 remained to give them a warm ovation.
"This group has done all of us proud," Drexel coach Chris Bates said. "They fought and competed all year. I think that was the fans showing their appreciation for the year we had."
Drexel (11-5) went into the game as the No. 2 seed in the CAA, ranked No. 15 in the U.S. Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association poll, and with an 11-7 regular-season win over Delaware.
But the No. 3-seeded Blue Hens, who went into the game ranked No. 17, were clearly the superior team last night, earning their third consecutive trip to the conference title game. They will play Saturday at Towson for the championship and an automatic berth in the 16-team NCAA tourney. Delaware (10-5) is going for its first CAA crown in any men's sport.
This was a match between a team hardened by playoff experience and a young group that hadn't played a postseason game. It showed. The Blue Hens struck quickly for a 2-0 lead as senior Adam Zuder-Havens scored two of his four goals, boosting his season total to 29. But it was Delaware's defense that fueled the victory, holding Drexel without a goal for almost 36 minutes while building a 7-2 lead after three quarters.
"They put short sticks on two of our attack men, and I thought it took us a little while to adjust to that," said Bates, who has practically built Drexel's program from the ground up. "And we just didn't make good decisions offensively early in the game. I give Delaware credit. They came out and gave us a thump early."
Kevin Kaminski, a freshman from Strath Haven High who scored two goals, said the Blue Hens had learned a lesson from their April 7 loss to Drexel.
"We had a different defense scheme, and we wanted to limit our turnovers," said Kaminski, who scored Delaware's fourth and seventh goals. "In the last game, they were passing the ball around quickly. This time, we wanted to get in their faces and hit them in the mouth as soon as they passed it."
Although it appeared that Delaware was about to cruise after taking a five-goal lead into the fourth quarter, the Dragons rallied with goals by freshman Greg Casey (La Salle High), who scored twice; sophomore Kevin Dart; and junior Andrew Chapman to trim the deficit to 7-5 with 7 minutes, 58 seconds remaining.
But both times the Dragons pulled to within two goals, Delaware immediately blunted their momentum. Senior Alex Smith made it 8-5 only 15 seconds after Chapman's goal. Then, after Drexel's Dan Layfield made it 8-6, Smith won a key face-off and set up Zuder-Havens for a goal 10 seconds later.
Smith has led the nation in face-offs three straight seasons.
"You get excited. You have momentum. And they just came back and killed it with one play," Drexel co-captain Mike Filippone said. "You've got to give them credit. They made plays when they needed to."
"Our seniors just took over," Kaminski said.
In the end, Bates thought his young team wasn't quite ready for the playoff intensity at the start.
"We have a real young team here, and in the playoffs the intensity goes up at least 20 percent," said Bates, who remains hopeful the Dragons will receive an at-large bid to the tourney. "I told them I hope it's something they learned."