Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
The weather outside the Daskalakis Athletic Center was that specific type of cold, when a bitter winter air gets a stiff breeze blowing through, about as frigid as it gets in Philadelphia. It’s the type of cold against which winter coats and hats only provide so much protection, that still seems to linger even indoors.
Yet the DAC felt strangely warm amidst the freeze, the temperature nice and comfortable surrounding the 94-of-50. That could be due to the Drexel women’s squad, which is absolutely on fire.
Amy Mallon (above) and Drexel are 12-2 and sitting in a tie atop the CAA. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
The preseason favorites in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA), Amy Mallon’s Dragons are not just off to a good start in league play; they’re one of the hottest teams in the country. A dominant 72-53 win over Hofstra on Sunday afternoon was Drexel’s ninth in a row, a streak which runs all the way back to late November.
Only Louisville (14) and South Dakota (12) have longer streaks, thanks to Saturday losses by Liberty (12) and Old Dominion (9); Indiana and Iowa State are tied with nine straight.
“The one thing this team has done a great job (of) is focusing on what’s right in front of them,” Mallon said, “and understanding that the little things they’re doing now, game-to-game improving are going to become big things down the line.”
The Dragons (12-2, 4-0 CAA) were terrific on both ends against the Pride (3-8, 0-3), racking up 22 assists on 25 made buckets (25-of-50, 50%), winning the rebounding rebounding battle (28-22) and forcing 20 Pride turnovers.
It was close only briefly: after leading 12-11 midway through the first, Drexel outscored Hofstra 25-4 to close out the first half, out-scoring their visitors 19-4 in the second quarter alone. Hofstra kept pace scoring-wise in the third, which ended with Drexel up 59-35 and the outcome zero percent in doubt.
“To have 22 assists on 25 makes, that just goes to show team basketball,” Mallon said, “and we talk about our defense setting the tone, and that certainly was the case today.””
Leading the way offensively once again for Drexel was Keishana Washington, who was 8-of-14 from the floor and 4-of-6 from 3-point range for 22 points, with two assists and no turnovers in 30 minutes on the floor.
Keishana Washington (above) is averaging just over 22 ppg over her last eight games. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
That continued a run of strong play for the 5-foot-7 senior guard from Ontario, who wasn’t quite herself early in the season. After averaging 12.0 ppg and shooting 33% from the floor in Drexel’s first six games, she found her rhythm; over her last eight, she’s averaging 22.1 ppg and making 46% overall and 33% from 3-point range.
“I think that’s just a confidence thing, knowing that every shot I take is going in,” she said. “The confidence I get from the coaching staff and my teammates to take the shots when I’m open […] they’re like ‘Kei, keep shooting the ball’ so I just listen to them and keep shooting it.”
Tessa Brugler added 13 points, one below her season average, while eight others joined the scoring column as the bench got plenty of run in the second half.
One other key piece in Drexel’s run wasn’t even around early in the season. Garnet Valley grad Maura Hendrixson, who injured her ACL midway through last season, made her return against Dartmouth on Nov. 30, coming off the bench for 14 minutes.
After playing less than 20 minutes in each of her first four appearances, scoring a total of six points during that span, she’s started to find her shot again. She had a season-high eight points in 19 minutes against Hofstra, and has played more than 35 minutes twice in their last four outings.
“It felt good to get back in the groove,” she said, “and coming back with a winning streak definitely helped a lot too with the confidence, playing with my teammates who were already confident and winning.”
Maura Hendrixson (above) had a season-high eight points in Drexel's win over Hofstra. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
“You could tell the first couple games, she was a little hesitant,” Mallon said. “Now, she brings that energy in everything she does [...] It’s exciting to see her. I keep forgetting that she wasn’t there right at the beginning of the season. She went from playing 13 minutes to about 38 minutes and you would never know she came off a major injury.”
This upcoming week will be the biggest test yet for the Drexel women. Towson (12-2, 4-0) and Delaware (9-4, 3-0) are both visiting the DAC, on Tuesday (7 PM) and Sunday (2 PM), respectively. Those games will cap off a four-game homestand for Drexel, which ends the month with a road trip to Elon (Jan. 28) and William & Mary (Jan. 30).
Both Washington and Hendrixson, as well as fifth-year point guard Hannah Nihill and others, were around not just for last year’s CAA championship, but the 23-7 (16-2) and 24-9 (14-4) seasons which came before them. Both of those featured long winning stretches during the doldrums of January, when the excitement of the newness of the season has faded but the postseason is a little too far away to feel real.
Momentum can be easily lost this time of year, and tough to regain.
“I feel like we just take it day-by-day and focus on practicing and the next team coming up,” Hendrixson said. “We don’t think about a game in two weeks or a game in a couple months, we think about our next game and our next opponents.”
“I think that falls on your leadership, a sense of urgency,” Mallon said. “We have six seniors on this team, so I expect them to set the tone.
“They have to be willing to say hey, we want to get better today, and what is that going to mean? We’ve got to work, which is expected, and we’re going to compete every day at practice, and we’re going to make the young ones stronger each day. We need them to improve, and they’re looking for leadership. That’s the tone you set, and that’s impacting.”
“I think that focus, especially with the senior leadership with this team, is going to be a reason why we continue to improve,” she added. “Win or lose, I think this team has a way of understand they have to learn from it, and I really see that in this group, and I’m really looking forward to seeing that for the next game.”