Ryan Drenner, an attacker for the Premier Lacrosse League’s Whipsnakes, has a habit of making big plays in bigger moments.
The Whipsnakes were tied with the Archers in overtime during a June matchup in the PLL’s inaugural season. Both teams were undefeated, and after four quarters battling to remain at the top of the league standings, the game was heading to overtime.
The Archers were moving the ball down the field when Whipsnakes midfielder Drew Snider intercepted a pass and made a pass of his own halfway across the field.
The ball made its way to Drenner, who only had Archers goalie Adam Ghitelman to beat. Drenner faked a shot, which caused Ghitelman to leap into the air and allowed Drenner to sling the ball into the net for the game winner.
It was the second straight game-winning goal in overtime for Drenner, and because of that, the Whipsnakes were the last remaining undefeated team in the PLL. His old coaches at Towson University aren’t surprised at Drenner’s production, though; he’s been making these types of plays for years.
“He’s doing what he’s always done,” Towson lacrosse head coach Shawn Nadelen said. “He’s playing to the best of his ability and showcasing why he’s one of the best offensive players out there.”
During the course of seven games, Drenner has scored 18 points, including 16 goals, one assist and one two-pointer. In a league that is filled with some of the world’s best lacrosse players, Drenner is tied for third in total goals in the PLL. But he got his start playing for the Tigers at Towson, and he credits his professional success to his time playing there.
Drenner, 24, played at Towson from 2014-2017.
“Just the mental toughness of the culture of our team at Towson was just hard work and embracing adversity,” Drenner said. “We wanted to go out and take any opportunity we had. It really propelled me to where I am now.”
Drenner, a native of Finksburg, Md., was not a player who got much attention from college coaches during his high school career. Despite captaining a state championship team and being named Baltimore Sun Player of the Year as a senior at Westminster High School, he was initially only contacted by “a couple” of Division III schools, he said. He got a letter from Notre Dame, but he assumed it was just a general outlet letter after he did not receive a reply to his responses.
But Towson saw potential in Drenner, and on his first visit to the campus, Nadelen and the coaching staff offered him a scholarship. He accepted it right away.
“Ryan’s passion for the game was evident from the start,” Nadelen said. “It was tough to get in touch with him during recruitment because he was always at the high school or at the local college doing shooting drills. Just watching him play and how much fun he was having and his competitiveness was evident. And that continued to evolve from there.”
Drenner had to quickly adjust to the speed of college lacrosse in his freshman season. He had to adapt to not being the best player on the field. He got a quick reminder of that during a scrimmage on the first day of practice.
He remembers catching a pass during that scrimmage and being completely open for about one second. Then, before he was able to take two steps, he was surrounded by defenders and getting whacked by sticks.
“Something we always talked about among our freshman class was that we were all the best players in our high school and that’s why we’re here,” Drenner said. “But now you’re on the field with players who were the best player everywhere they were. So you’re no longer the best player anymore.”
Nadelen and the coaching staff also moved Drenner to midfield from the attack position that he was used to from his high school career. That helped him develop more as a player because he was able to see the field from a different angle, but the move was also because that was how Nadelen thought the team could best utilize him.
“It was just to kind of ease him into Division I lacrosse and not have him get thrust into playing attack and get beat on by a long stick the entire time,” Nadelen said. “He was able to dodge against shorties and play off the win a little bit more instead of going from behind.”
“It showed his versatility,” Nadelen added. “And it allowed him to adapt a little bit better … and being a bit more comfortable on the field.”
Drenner did not begin the season in the starting lineup, but he cracked the lineup early in the season. One of the starting midfielders got injured before the third game of the season against High Point, allowing Drenner to get on the field.
The injured player, Andrew Hodgson, was Drenner’s college mentor. He was there on Drenner’s recruiting visit, and they built a close relationship. Hodgson approached Drenner before the game and gave him some advice that has remained in his mind.
“He was like, ‘Just remember to go out and do your thing,'” Drenner said. “‘You’re here for a reason. You’re playing for a reason, but let the game come to you. Don’t go out there and force anything.’ That’s something that sticks with me to this day. I always try to play and let the game come to me rather than forcing something to happen.”
Nadelen said it’s hard to know how freshmen are going to react to being placed in a starting role so early, but he had confidence that Drenner would be just fine.
“He knows what he’s capable of,” Nadelen said. “And he’s capable of an awful lot because he loves it and he just showed us he had that confidence that he was able to play.”
Drenner started every game for the remainder of his career at Towson. He helped lead the Tigers to three conference championships from 2015-2017 and to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament in 2016 and the Final Four in 2017. Towson went 48-21 during Drenner’s tenure.
After his freshman season, Drenner moved back to attack full time and accounted for at least 35 points in each season. He was selected as the CAA Co-Player of the Year in 2016 with 2.95 points per game, which ranked 64th in the country.
Drenner still talks with some of his coaches now that he is in the PLL. His coaches know there is someone else coaching him now, so they don’t try to coach him up anymore. But his coaches know what Drenner is all about; he’s still the same dominant force that he was with Towson, only he’s an even better player now.
“He’s extremely fundamental,” Nadelen said. “He takes advantage of other teams’ mistakes, he creates when he needs to and he continues to be extremely opportunistic. I’m just seeing his game evolve and get better and better by being competitive and taking the fight to the defense.”
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the PLL