Towson has won the past four meetings to improve to 42-10 in its series with Drexel. The Dragons – who are 2-4 away from Philadelphia this spring – have been bounced from the semifinals of the Colonial Athletic Association tournament three times in the past four years, and all three of those losses were against the Tigers, who are 3-3 at home this season.
Drexel (6-7 overall and 3-2 in the conference) is the No. 4 seed in the league tournament. The defense has been anchored by the duo of senior goalkeeper Jimmy Joe Granito (more on him later) and junior defenseman Michael Meurer. The latter, a Towson resident and Loyola Blakefield graduate who was named to the All-CAA second team on Wednesday, leads the team in caused turnovers (18) and has added 15 ground balls.
Towson (8-4, 4-1) is the regular-season champion and the top seed in the CAA tournament for the second year in a row. Senior long-stick midfielder Tyler Mayes was recognized by the conference as the Defensive Player of the Year. The Bel Air resident and Calvert Hall graduate leads the team in caused turnovers with 33, and his 2.8 average ranks fourth in Division I.
Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at Johnny Unitas Stadium in Towson on Thursday at 5 p.m.
1) Getting to Granito. Besides Meurer, Drexel's other defensive pillar is senior goalkeeper Jimmy Joe Granito. Although the Loyola Maryland transfer has allowed an average of 10.7 goals in five CAA contests, he does lead the conference in saves per game at 12.8, and Towson should be familiar with Granito after he made 11 stops in the Tigers' 8-7 win on April 1. Towson outshot the Dragons, 46-25, in that meeting, but coach Shawn Nadelen said the offense players must be more opportunistic in their rematch with the All-CAA first-team selection.
"We've got to be able to capitalize," he said. "When you work hard to create good offense and good shots that you want to take, you've got to score. To get him off of his game, you've got to put the ball past him. You don't want to make it easy on him like we did up in Fairfield with [senior Tyler] Behring and put it on his stick with our first two shots. We've got to be able to take smart location shots and be able to put the ball past him when we have those opportunities."
2) Shadowing Shafer. Drexel's offense runs through senior attackman Cole Shafer, the team's second All-CAA first-team pick. Shafer ranks second in the conference in goals per game (2.6) and fifth in average points (3.2). Against league competition, he has scored a conference-best 14 goals and 19 points, which is second only to Hofstra junior attackman Josh Byrne's 20 points. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Byrne was limited to one goal by Towson's 6-3, 200-pound sophomore defenseman Chad Patterson (Westminster) on Sunday, but 6-foot, 170-pound junior defenseman Sid Ewell (Essex Community College) may be a better matchup against the 5-8, 160-pound Shafer, who scored twice in the first meeting.
"As far as when the ball is in their sticks and they're dodging, Josh is a big body. You've got to have a guy with strength and physicality there," Nadelen said. "Cole's a little bit shiftier, a little bit more slippery. So they're different in that aspect. But when they get the ball in their sticks, if they get their hands free, they can shoot it from many different angles and ways. So you've got to be careful about that."
3) Working with Woodall. Towson sophomore Alex Woodall, an All-CAA first-team choice in his first season since transferring from High Points, is just a few points behind Drexel junior Noah Rak for the conference lead in faceoff percentage. (Rak leads at 60.9 percent, and Woodall is at 60.3 percent.) Woodall won 66.7 percent of his draws (12-of-18) with two ground balls in the Tigers' win against Drexel, but the Annapolis resident and St. Mary's graduate got a considerable amount of help from Mayes, who collected eight loose balls in that contest. The Dragons have relied primarily on freshman Jimmeh Koita (39.9 percent), but Nadelen pointed out that Drexel has recently rotated in junior Nabil Akl (39.6 percent) more frequently.
"It was a good battle between Alex and the Drexel guy," Nadelen said of the first game. "I know that they've used a little bit more of a two-headed monster recently. Alex hasn't really faced that guy. So we'll see what that looks like. Alex had his work cut out for him in the first one, and I can't imagine that it will be much different on Thursday."