A scene from one of the men's wrestling team's matches in 2018.
Drexel Athletics is proud to be a nexus for engagement and pride at the intersection of 33rd and Market streets in Philadelphia. When you visit the Daskalakis Athletic Center (DAC), and regardless of whether you are a recreational athlete or a varsity athlete, you enter a sports laboratory that offers you the opportunity to learn the essential soft and hard skills of the athletic arena. Those include motivation, leadership, teamwork, managing risks and, yes, also failure, to help you learn and position yourself in life to make the impossible, possible.
Drexel Athletics is the spirit and the soul of our University’s commitment to integrity, innovation, engagement, inclusivity and excellence. Drexel Athletics brings national recognition to its campus, and fosters interest and enthusiasm from alumni and prospective students alike. As Drexel University continues to define itself as a world-class university, Drexel Athletics embraces its role as Dragon ambassadors.
As we move into 2019, I want to thank all our friends of Drexel Athletics for their support and friendship. This past year created many special memories. Below, re-experience a few of those “Dragon Moments” from 2018:
All the best for a successful and joyous 2019!
Eric A. Zillmer, PsyD
1. Academics — Drexel Athletics National Leader
At Drexel, the student in student-athlete really does come first and Drexel Athletics continues to be a national leader in academic integrity. The women’s basketball, women’s lacrosse and women’s swimming and diving programs finished with the highest team GPA in the Colonial Athletic Association. In addition, the women's swimming and diving team also tied Stanford University for fourth place with a team GPA of 3.71 nationally. Six Drexel wrestlers were named Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association Academic Achievement Award recipients and six DU teams scored a perfect 100 percent on the 2018 NCAA Graduation Success Rate. Finally, the Drexel University women's tennis, women's rowing and men's golf teams received the NCAA's Academic Performance Program (APR) public recognition award. This NCAA annual award is given to teams that posted multiyear APRs in the top 10 percent of all teams in their respective sports. Our student-athletes are awesome and motivated to play their hearts out between the lines and to perform at the highest level in the classroom. Bravo!
2. Basketball — Women win CAA Regular Season Title, Men Break NCAA Record
2018 CAA Rookie of the Year Hannah Nihill of the women's basketball team.
Our hoops teams made some noise in 2018. The women’s basketball team earned the No. 1 seed and the CAA regular-season title by posting a 16-2 record in CAA league play. In front of a sold-out DAC, they overcame a late three-point deficit in the CAA Championship semifinals to defeat the University of Delaware’s Blue Hens in overtime 58-53, only to fall short to Elon University in the CAA title game. Their 2018 campaign marks the most successful regular season in program history and many awards followed, including the conference’s most prestigious Dean Ehlers Leadership Award for citizenship, received by senior Kelsi Lidge, and CAA Rookie-of-the-Year, which went to Hannah Nihill. Simply put, Denise Dillon, the recipient of the 2018 CAA Coach-of-the-Year award, is the winningest coach in Drexel women’s basketball history.
Our men’s team made national news when it broke the record for the largest come-from-behind win in NCAA history. Drexel set an NCAA Division I record by coming back from a 34-point deficit to defeat the University of Delaware, 85-83. The Dragons closed the game by outscoring the Blue Hens 22-6 over the last 6:25 and had 10 straight points at one stretch to make it a two-possession game. Delaware had one last chance, but Eric Carter's half-court shot hit only backboard and Drexel pulled off the comeback. The largest margin to overcome until the 34-comeback to defeat Delaware 85-83 was by Duke University in 1950 (after trailing by 32 points), prompting the Blue Devils to tweet a congrats to the Dragons. Classy!
3. Drexel Recreation — Philly’s No. 1 Gym
Drexel Rec continues to be a national leader in recreational athletics. This past year, it added two club sport teams: Quidditch and ski & snowboard. Eight club sport teams competed in Nationals this past year, including men’s ice hockey, men’s volleyball, paintball, cricket, track, swimming, karate and triathlon. Men’s club ice hockey won the ECHA regular season and playoff championships to advance to the ACHA National Championship in Columbus, Ohio for the second straight year. Club Badminton won the Yonex Eastern Collegiate Mid-Atlantic Conference in October in College Park, Maryland. The Drexel Recreation Center, for the sixth year in a row, was the proud host of the Be Well Philly Boot Camp presented by Philadelphia magazine, which brought in more than 600 female professionals to our facility. “My Rec Life,” the Drexel Recreational Athletics’ student blog, completed its first season, spotlighting the department’s facilities, offeringsand staff. Men's and Women's Club Rugby were featured as part of the “This. Is. Rugby.” YouTube series in preparation for the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship this past spring. In addition, approximately 700,000 students, staff, faculty, and community members used the DAC in 2018. Busy, busy, busy!
4. Philanthropy — Drexel Athletics Fundraises Largest Amount
Drexel alumni, parents and friends of the program really stepped up this past year to yield the largest total of gifts for Drexel Athletics. Not only did Drexel Athletics supporters commit 43 percent of all gifts on Drexel’s Day of Giving, but also substantial support was provided for sport-specific teams, the Vidas Complex renovations and the construction of the Buckley Bubble. Thank you to donors Dennis Fink, Matt Naylor, Andrew Pennoni, Jim Bean, Chris McKendry, Stan Silverman, Meghan Klauder and Bob Buckley, as well as to my crack athletics fundraising team of Kerry DiBlasio, Robert Fisher and Mary Moran. We are very grateful to have so many supporters of Drexel Athletics moving the program forward!
The Fink Family Scoreboard, a state-of-the-art LED display for Vidas Field, will mark the first phase of the Complex's transformation.
5. Dragons in the Community
Drexel student-athlete involvement in the community is a pillar of our values for Drexel Athletics. Under the leadership of our Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), Drexel student-athletes made a deep, meaningful and lasting impact on our community. Some of the programs they were involved in over the 2018 year included volunteering for the Ronald McDonald House, the Special Olympics of Pennsylvania’s Polar Plunge, Candygrams to raise money for veterans, the Eagles Autism Challenge, the annual Laura Meikel-Koch 3v3 Soccer Festival to raise awareness for lung cancer, the seventh annual women’s lacrosse “Lax 4 Maggie 4v4” tournament to raise awareness for patients with pediatric brain tumors, hosting a lacrosse game to raise money for the Headstrong Foundation related to bringing awareness to blood cancer, Inspire a Child Dream to Day, Salvation Army’s Adopt A Christmas Family Program, Hope Lodge, MANNA (a non-profit organization that helps make and deliver package food for the less fortunate), Beat the Streets Philadelphia, SquashSmarts and the CHOP walk to raise awareness for childhood leukemia. Our student-athletes are incredible!
6. Rowing — Drexel Crew Wins Sixth Straight Dad Vail Title, Women Compete at Henley
The women’s crew team in Henley-on-Thames together with Cara Fry (middle).
Drexel rowing continued its dominance on the Schuylkill by winning its sixth-straight Jefferson Dad Vail Overall title and second women’s title, sending an astonishing dozen boats into Saturday’s grand finals. The rowing program capped off another successful rowing season with a trip to the Women’s Henley Regatta, where it notched wins over international competition. Drexel Director of Rowing Paul Savell is continuing to build a powerhouse at the historic Bachelors Barge Club. Fun to watch and be part of. Congrats!
7. Swimming and Diving — Alexa Kutch Qualifies for NCAAs, Men 2nd in CAAs
At the NCAA Championships hosted by Ohio State University, Alexa Kutch swam a 52.48 in the 100 backstroke to set a Drexel and CAA record. Kutch also competed in the NCAA Championships in the 200 backstroke, which she qualified for 34th nationally with a swim of 1:53.46. That time stands as a program record. Head coach Adam Braun is not-so-quietly building a powerhouse swimming and diving program, having posted Drexel’s best 2018 CAA record in program history including the men’s teaming finishing in second place at the CAA championships for the first time.
8. Golf — Best Finish Ever at the CAA Championships
The Drexel golf team closed the 2018 season with a third-place finish at the CAA Championships. The Dragons saved their best round for last as they shot a two-over-par 290 on the final 18 holes. The third-place finish is the highest finish in the program’s 17 years in the CAA. Connor Schmidt, Aaron Fricke and Alex Butler led the way with top-10 finishes for head coach Ben Feld's team. “I'm so proud of these guys,” said Feld. “This group worked so hard this whole year and their toughness showed this week on a difficult golf course. This week only adds to our belief that we will win a CAA Championship in the coming years.” Agreed … it is truly unbelievable that Drexel golf was only five strokes from qualifying for the NCAA national championships. Very proud!
9. Lacrosse — WLAX Captures Rookie of the Year, MLAX Wins Over No. 11 Georgetown
Players on the Drexel men's lacrosse team.
Women’s lacrosse player Colleen Grady was named the conference’s Rookie of the Year, the first Dragon ever to win that award. Matthew Varian scored a career-high six goals and face-off man Jimmy Koita had a career day as the Drexel men defeated No. 11 Georgetown University, 15-10. The Hoyas came into the game as one of just three unbeaten teams in the nation, but Drexel scored seven-straight goals in the second quarter to take a lead it would never relinquish.
10. Squash — Women’s Squash Kurtz Cup Champions, Men Finish 13th
The Drexel women's squash team overcame Dartmouth University, 6-3, to win the Kurtz Cup B Division title for the first time in program history. Drexel finished the year on a six-match winning streak to bring its overall record to 11-8 and finished No. 9 in the nation. Dartmouth had gotten the best of the Dragons in the Kurtz Cup final in each of the last two years, but this year the Dragons overcame the Big Green to win their first title and hoist the cup. Very cool! The Drexel men's squash team closed play at the Hoehn Cup with a 5-4 win over the University of Virginia in the consolation final. The Dragons finished the season with a No. 13 national ranking.
11. Softball — DiMeo Named All-American
Coming off a record-breaking freshman season, Drexel softball infielder Kristi DiMeo has been recognized by Fast Pitch News as a 2018 Division I All-American Second Team selection. DiMeo, a native of Turnersville, New Jersey, broke four of Drexel's single season records (doubles, home runs, total bases and RBI) in a standout first season in University City.
12. Sports Psychology — Sports is 90 Percent Mental and the Other Half is Physical!
Madeline Barlow joined the Drexel Athletics staff in August as the sport psychology coordinator on the sport performance staff. Barlow works directly with teams and coaches to enhance performance and overall experience by teaching mental skills for peak performance, including goal setting, energy management, managing stress and emotions and increasing awareness and confidence.
This year's U.S. Open Squash championships were held at the University.
13. Soccer — Women Make CAAs, Men Win Philly Soccer Six Championship
Drexel women’s soccer earned a 2-0 victory against CAA opponent Elon University at Vidas Field to qualify for postseason play in the CAA championships for the third year in a row. For the first time since 2010, Drexel men's soccer claimed a Philadelphia Soccer Six championship as the Dragons defeated Saint Joseph’s University in their regular-season finale, 4-3, to win the title.
14. Wrestling — Defeats No. 21 Rider University, Enters Top 25 in Nation
Freshman heavyweight Sean O’Malley’s third-period takedown sealed an 18-14 comeback win as the Drexel wrestling team upset the No. 21 Rider Broncos at a rocking DAC. Rider grew an early lead out to 14-6 after a technical fall victory at 165 pounds. The Dragons battled back with decisions at 174, 184 and 197 pounds to take a one-point lead heading into the heavyweight match. At heavyweight, O'Malley capped a dramatic come-from-behind dual win with a third-period takedown with 23 seconds remaining of Rider’s Mauro Correnti to take a 3-2 decision and the match for the Dragons. With the win the Drexel wrestling team cracked the top 25 in the USA Today/NWCA Division I poll.
15. Men’s and Women’s Tennis – Best Season Ever
The Drexel men’s tennis team broke the program record for most victories in a season, finished 14-7 overall and advanced to the CAA Semifinals. Hamza Laleej set the school record for career singles wins, while Sinan Orhon set the mark for career doubles wins. The women’s tennis team finished the 2018 season with a 15-5 record and went undefeated (10-0) at home. Kendra Bunch ended the season as the all-time winningest player in Drexel women's tennis history, leading the program in both career singles and doubles wins. Head coach Mehdi Rhazali is now the winningest tennis coach at Drexel with 151 combined wins.
16. Nike Partnership
Drexel Athletics entered a five-year partnership with Nike through BSN SPORTS. We are excited to formalize our long-standing relationship with both BSN Sports and Nike. This agreement further boosts the brand of Drexel Athletics. By partnering with these industry leaders, we really believe that this will enhance the experience of our student-athletes.
17. Drexel Athletics Hosted CAA Women’s Basketball Championships, the U.S. Open Squash Championships, and the World Team Tennis Finals
Drexel Athletics continues to define itself as a leader in the athletic management of prominent national and international athletic events. Drexel Athletics played host to the Colonial Athletic Association Women’s Basketball Championship for the first time in school history, hosted the U.S. Men’s and Women’s Squash Open for the seventh time and the World Team Tennis Finals for the first time.
18. Drexel Teams Compete in International Friendlies in Men’s Basketball and Field Hockey.
Drexel’s men’s basketball team in front of a mural of Ben Simmons in Melbourne, Australia.
The men’s basketball team completed a 12-day visit to Australia, where the Dragons faced four opponents in three different cities. Drexel Field Hockey traveled to South America, including Argentina and Uruguay, where it competed in three matches. International trips provide a short-term co-op for our student-athletes in their sport, as well as education and interaction with other cultures. When you play local sport teams you also get to go behind the scenes of a society and interact in a people-to-people context. It is very genuine, unique, educational and meaningful.
19. Drexel Athletics Forms Athletics Director’s Circle
The AD’s Circle is a newly formed athletics leadership group. The mission of the AD’s Circle is to support and promote the Drexel Athletics Department, and to increase involvement from alumni through attendance and sport-specific financial contributions. The input, perspective and passion of Dragon alumni are invaluable and vital to continue to grow Drexel Athletics. By educating alumni and friends of Drexel about the importance of giving back to their sport, supporting each other and collaborating among all sports at Drexel, one can create the best possible experience for our student athletes, fans, supporters and alumni.
20. Bibi Zillmer inducted into the Figure Skating Hall of Fame
On a personal note, I am very proud to have my sister be inducted into the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame this past year in Vail, Colorado. Bibi was a three-time German Champion, an Olympian in Grenoble, France and placed in the top 10 in the World Championships in Colorado Springs. She was an exceptional figure skater, elegant and precise. Very deserving!