2022 NCAA Lacrosse Preview: No. 16 Delaware (Men)

PHOTO BY KEVIN P. TUCKER

Matt Kilkeary, who made 154 saves with a 54 percent save percentage in 2021, returns for a fifth year.


The 2022 college lacrosse season is nearly upon us. As is our annual tradition, we’re featuring every team ranked in the Nike/USA Lacrosse Preseason Top 20.

Check back to USALaxMagazine.com each weekday this month for new previews, scouting reports and rival analysis.

NO. 16 DELAWARE

2021 Record: 10-3 (7-1 CAA)
Final Ranking (2021): No. 14
Coach: Ben DeLuca (5th year)

Delaware? Was it a state? A city somewhere close to Philadelphia, maybe?

Owen Grant didn’t know what to make of Delaware several years ago when the Blue Hens first started recruiting the talented defender and Ontario native. An initial phone call surprised him. So he researched the program.

Yes, he learned, it was, indeed, a state — and so much more.

“I never even heard of the program or anything,” Grant said with a laugh. “So I talked to a couple of the other Canadian alums like Jordan Hall before I committed. And then it was cool to just learn the history and see other Canadians have so much success here and love it so much.”

Delaware loves them back.

With a strong returning nucleus, including a core group of Canadians counted on as key contributors, Delaware enters 2022 poised to take the next step after becoming outright CAA regular-season champions for the first time in program history. For the Blue Hens, that means setting their sights on winning their conference tournament and making more national noise.

NIKE/USAL PRESEASON TOP 20
TEAM PREVIEWS

1. Virginia

2. Maryland

3. Duke

4. Georgetown

5. Notre Dame

6. North Carolina

7. Loyola

8. Yale

9. Penn

10. Rutgers

11. Lehigh

12. Denver

13. Army

14. Syracuse

15. Johns Hopkins

16. Delaware

17. Drexel

18. Cornell

19. Vermont

20. Bryant

A roundup of Canadians on the Blue Hens is like naming a who’s who of experienced playmakers on both ends. There’s Grant, a senior, whom the CAA named last season as Defensive Player of the Year after he racked up a team-best 26 caused turnovers, which tied Delaware’s single-season record. There’s Mike Robinson (Ontario), a junior attackman, who led Delaware in goals with 43. There’s sophomore midfielders Matt Acchione and Cam Acchione (both from Ontario), and the latter is an especially trendy pick to emerge as a huge building block because of his deft dodging skills. There’s also senior attackman Tye Kurtz and junior midfielder Reed Kurtz (both from Ontario), with Tye known for his fantastic scoring ability (26 goals, 22 assists).

“The path of Canadians has been impactful, but it was established here long before I got here,” said coach Ben DeLuca, who is entering his fifth season. “I don’t know exactly why, but what I do know is we have guys from there on both ends of the field and they help anchor us. It’s a strong tradition here.”

Grant’s theories include the same reasons why any player commits to any school: proximity, good coaching, great opportunity, camaraderie and fun. In turn, as DeLuca sees it, the Canadians have helped create an identity for Delaware because of their grit, toughness, ability to play in close quarters and flair.

In other words, the box lacrosse influence and style of play has helped enable Delaware to become a team known for taking chances, playing unrestricted yet smart. They like to be aggressive and stress physicality, yet they often appear disciplined in their approach, anything but reckless. A buzz word usually applies to all of this: Energy.

The Canadian players are far from the only reason why Delaware is on an upward trajectory after a losing conference season each year from 2012-17, before DeLuca’s arrival. They also return fifth-year goalie Matt Kilkeary, who made 154 saves with a 54 percent save percentage, and senior defensemen Kevin McCormick and Kevin Lynch. Delaware should again be a top defensive team.

While they lose some offensive firepower from Charlie Kitchen’s graduation (55 points), Robinson and Tye Kurtz are rounding out their games to be complete playmakers, and graduate student Mark Bieda is a steady presence.

It all adds up to a lot to be excited about for Delaware.

“We’ve been building this team for a while now,” Grant said. “It’s good to see a little bit of success, but obviously we fell short of our goal last year. We would’ve liked to go a little bit further than that conference tournament, maybe. But we have this year for that second chance at it. We have a tight-knit senior class, and we’ve been waiting for this opportunity.”

As DeLuca put it, “We’re excited … The way I would describe it is, cautiously optimistic.”

These days, that’s Delaware.






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TOP RETURNERS

Owen Grant, D, Sr.

The Colonial Athletic Association named Grant its Defensive Player of the Year after he racked up a team-best 26 caused turnovers, which tied Delaware’s single-season record. His 2.36 caused turnovers per game ranked third nationally for Delaware, which led the CAA in scoring defense at 10.08 goals per game.

Mike Robinson, A, Jr.

With a skilled long-range shot, Robinson led Delaware in goals (43) while also dishing eight assists. He forms an exciting 1-2 punch with Tye Kurtz (26 goals, 22 assists), and after breaking out as a scorer, he could take the next step in developing as an all-around playmaker.

Mark Bieda, A, Grad.

Delaware relies heavily on the leadership of Bieda, who enters his second year as a captain. He was the team’s fourth-leading scorer with 27 points (17 goals, 10 assists) and returned for an extra season.

KEY ADDITION

Kevin Lynch, D, Sr.

On an experienced team, the one thing new about Lynch is a title: he’s a first-year captain. But his grit and work ethic — he transferred, walked on and has steadily improved — are familiar to Delaware, which should lean a bit heavier on him for a larger defensive role in his third season with the team.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE

JP Ward, A, So.

There should be enough returning firepower to make up for Charlie Kitchen’s graduation (55 points), but under-the-radar players such as Ward and senior Clay Miller may emerge at X in Kitchen’s absence. Ward has an all-around skillset with a quick shot and a little bit of experience from last season to build on; he appeared in 11 games as a freshman, including two starts.

ENEMY LINES

What rival coaches say about the Blue Hens:

“Losing Kitchen is definitely going to hurt them, but those two wing attackmen are super talented and going to be productive. Defensively, Grant is as good as any in the country.”

“Delaware is one of those underrated teams that nobody has on the radar. I know they have a lot of guys back. Owen Grant is one of the best players in the country. Offensively, they have a couple of kids who are really good and have some really slick sticks. I wouldn’t be surprised if they challenge Drexel, the reigning CAA champ, for that title. … I think that’s going to be Delaware’s best team [under DeLuca]. I wouldn’t be surprised if they walk out with the automatic bid. … That kid Robinson can finish the ball. He’s kind of like a Zach Currier/Ethan Walker type.”

BEYOND THE BASICS
POWERED BY LACROSSE REFERENCE

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Coach DeLuca’s Blue Hens squad ended 2021 on a sour note, but despite the CAA tournament disappointment, they ended the year with their highest end-of-season program rating (LaxElo) since the stat has been tracked. The challenge they’ll need to overcome to break their own record is that Delaware returns just 74 percent of their offensive production from last year and just 54 percent of their faceoff unit production.— Zack Capozzi

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