When I was a sophomore in high school I joined the schools Ultimate Frisbee team. I joined a pretty deep team in the midseason so I didn’t expect much for playing time, I thought I was more along for the ride and a social occasion than anything. While I expected to coast on the bench, I was happy to run around like a madman in practice, do what the captains said and try to be a good teammate. What I didn’t know was the amount of running around I would be doing. From my first practice and for my first few weeks on the team, what I didn’t know was that the captains had assigned me to guard the team’s best offensive threat every single time that we practiced playing man to man. I’d barely picked up a disc before, and never played alongside my teammates. The dude crushed me. But, between the work ethic, and the level of competition I was facing, I learned the level that I wanted to play at. And when the next season began, I wasn’t just getting playing time – I was a captain of a team that went on to win the State Championship.
That story has one and only one takeaway: Competition matters.
It was fun watching the Dragons go 5-5 against their early season schedule. After being picked ninth or tenth in the CAA in almost every preseason poll it helped shut up some of the doubters, and perhaps created some buy in around campus. That’s important to do. However, after the first week of the season the best team the Dragons faced was NJIT. In reality, they faced a group of teams that would be taking part in the CAA tourney play-in games. So this Drexel team is capable of beating those teams – but could they beat the better teams in the world? Were the Dragons good?
After running through games against UConn, Temple, Northeastern and Hofstra, that answer is a resounding no. The offense looked like an offense that could compete with anyone, but the defense, now ranked 344th out of 352 nationally, showed that it wasn’t ready for prime time. On this site, it gave us an opportunity to run a story like Scott’s breakdown on KJ Jackson’s day without anyone talking about us giving the team a hard time. For the team, one imagines something similar happened over film study. No coach is being accused of being a hardass when he’s making guys run sprints after the team gives up 80+ points in five straight games. Instead, a locker room full of competitors know that they have to improve if they want to compete – a lesson that doesn’t necessarily come across when beating Loyola 95-86, but should, because hey, they gave up 86 to Loyola.
In order to become the best, you need to know the level the best play at. These Dragons, a young team that is still coming together, especially in the post, where the help defense comes from,had not seen that level of play prior to this stretch. They couldn’t have been expected to play at that level. Now, after playing four straight games against top 100 teams, they know what that is. More importantly, they know where they need to get to as we enter the meat of the CAA season. And so now they have the opportunity to respond, and show that they understand that level.
The first opportunity to show that understanding comes this Thursday at home against Elon. It’s almost gift wrapped. Elon has one of the two weakest offenses in the CAA (Towson has an argument for that role) and is the unquestioned 10th ranked team in the CAA right now. With Drexel’s offense looking just fine on the road against Northeastern and Hofstra, if the defense shows improvement, this has all of the markings of a 20 point win in a “get right” game for the Dragons.
That game is followed by a DAC matchup Saturday against William and Mary – a team with a good offense, but that isn’t at the level of NU and HU. Provided the team does take care of business against Elon, this game will offer the opportunity to show whether they can sustain their focus and make real progress, or if one win satisfies them that they were back on the right track – and they fall back into a hole.
Minutes continuity is something I spoke of at length in the CAA Preview. This team is 302nd nationally – these guys really hadn’t played together at all prior to this season. And in the post, arguably the most important defensive position, that’s especially true, as only Tadas Kararinas returned. “This team will be better in Feburary than we are in November” said Coach Spiker at the beginning of the year. It makes total sense. But if they are growing and figuring out defensive positioning together, then there’s no better time for fans to look for it than right now, this weekend, coming off this stretch against the toughest competition they will face all year.
It’s a weekend to circle the wagons at the DAC. These are two big games not just for the CAA standings, but for this team to show what they can be. A step forward through the weekend would show that a team that is still relatively new playing with one another is making progress. But if these last two weeks of tough opponents go for not – then the alarm bells will ring.
See you at the DAC.