Lindsay McArdle wanted to go to college “as far away” from her Upper Darby home as possible.
Then she met Drexel field hockey coach Denise Zelenak.
“I was on my way to a clinic [at Drexel] my sophomore year [of high school], and my dad was like, ‘Why don’t you go here?’ I was like, ‘Absolutely not,’” the junior midfielder recalls. “I went to the clinic and I fell in love with Denise and the team and the environment here, and I got in the car and said to my dad, ‘I want to go to Drexel.’ As soon as you meet her you get this genuine feeling that she really cares about her players.”
When Zelenak took over the program 18 years ago, she was a fiery 25-year-old first-time head coach with sky-high expectations of herself and her players. Over the years, the program has changed—but Zelenak’s expectations haven’t.
“The program was very different, the school was very different,” she says. “It was the perfect place for me because I could keep pushing and growing, and I actually got to develop with the University itself. Getting the team to match my expectations took a lot of years of recruiting. The players that stuck with it, I give them a lot of credit.”
Zelenak deserves plenty herself. In 2009, she led Drexel to its first-ever berth in the NCAA Tournament, and last season the Dragons won the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament for the first time. Both were monumental achievements for Zelenak, who reflexively deflects praise to her players.
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