By Ed Brennen
The UMass Lowell women’s soccer team was en route to Stony Brook, New York, for the semifinals of the 2018 America East conference tournament. As the River Hawks’ bus made the five-hour drive to Long Island, defender Abby Drezek
opened her laptop to watch her brother Ben
compete for the River Hawks in that day’s America East Cross Country Championships in Nashua, New Hampshire.
“I would always try to go to his big meets, but with both of us playing in the fall, sometimes our schedules overlapped,” says Abby, who is older than Ben by one minute — and two minutes older than the youngest of the Drezek triplets, Jake.
After standout high school athletic careers in Cumberland, Rhode Island, Abby and Ben decided to study exercise physiology
at UML’s Zuckerberg College of Health Sciences
and compete for the Division I River Hawks. Jake, meanwhile, elected to pursue a pharmacy degree at the University of Rhode Island.
“It’s definitely tough being away from one of my brothers, but it makes it more special when we come home,” Abby says. “And if I’m going through a hard time here at school, it’s comforting to know that Ben’s around.”
That sibling support has certainly been needed in 2020, as the coronavirus pandemic has taken away so much that was once taken for granted, including classroom learning, soccer games and cross country meets.
The River Hawks’ fall sports seasons have been postponed until the spring, although the Drezeks returned to their neighboring off-campus apartments this semester so they could complete their 12-week practicums — Abby at Unified Health and Performance in Lancaster, Massachusetts, and Ben at Athletic Evolution in Woburn, Massachusetts. They’ve also had informal, socially distanced workouts with teammates.
“It’s pretty taxing as college athletes because you spend so much time working out and prepping for your season, and then it gets postponed,” says Abby, who was co-captain of the women’s soccer team her junior year. “We got here because we are driven and motivated, but sometimes it’s hard to stay motivated for so long without being able to train.”
Their senior years aren’t playing out as planned, but Abby and Ben are still wrapping up parallel stellar student-athlete careers.
“UMass Lowell has definitely lived up to all my hopes and expectations,” says Ben, who advanced to the 2019 NCAA Cross Country Championships his junior year and earned UML’s David Boutin Award, given to the top male student-athlete who encompasses academic and athletic excellence, as well as leadership and community service.
Ben’s 3.967 grade point average last year also earned him accolades as America East’s best scholar-athlete for the cross country and outdoor track and field seasons.
“Academics have always come first for me. No matter where we travel for meets, I always have my homework and textbooks with me,” Ben says. “Unfortunately, we’re not going to be athletes forever, so we need strong academic success so we can have a future career and make a living for ourselves outside of sport."
Not to be outdone, Abby was recently named a Presidential Scholar-Athlete
by America East on the strength of her cumulative 3.968 GPA. She was also a finalist last spring for UML’s Laurie A. Mann Award, the women’s equivalent of the Boutin Award.
“We’re in a lot of the same classes, which is nice because it pushes me to do a little better,” Abby says. “My competitiveness from when we were little never goes away.”
“She’s very similar to me in work style and work ethic,” Ben adds. “We’re on the same wavelength.”
The Drezeks are also on the same wavelength as co-presidents of UML’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC
), which is made up of elected representatives from each Div. I team. The committee works to leverage the voices of River Hawk student-athletes, such as through a get-out-the-vote campaign
this fall, and with community service.
“The campus and community do so much for us as athletes, so giving back is the right thing to do,” says Ben, who is the university’s SAAC representative for America East.
As part of the conference’s #BetterTo9ether initiative, Ben shared some of his own mental health struggles as a high school and college athlete in a piece for America East Voices
“It’s a subject that’s close to my heart, and now that I’m willing to speak up about it, I know I can help other athletes and other students on campus,” he says. “Being able to bring that awareness to campus is going to create a better student environment.”
Ben already has a spot in UML’s
Doctor of Physical Therapy
program for graduate school. Abby, who completed her undergraduate degree a semester early this fall, is also leaning toward the program — while keeping an eye on playing soccer for the River Hawks in the spring.
“UMass Lowell has really built me up and made me a better person,” says Abby, whose goal is to work with special education students at the middle school level. “Being able to play Division I sports, to be part of such a good major, and to be involved with community service around campus has been awesome.”
Ben’s immediate goal, meanwhile, is to return to the national championships next semester. Considering he wasn’t a highly decorated state champion runner coming out of high school, Ben credits UML Coach Gary Gardner for taking a chance on him.
“That’s what I admire about Gary’s coaching style: he looks more at the potential of an athlete,” Ben says.
When asked what’s been the highlight of her athletic career at UML, Abby thinks back to that bus ride to Stony Brook. The fourth-seeded River Hawks would upset the top-seeded Seawolves that day, 2-0, to advance to the conference championship game.
“Everything about that game went perfectly,” she says. “When I think of the team, that’s the memory that always comes to mind.”