New Delaware coach Ben DeLuca addresses his players at the University City Classic in Philadelphia on Sunday. DeLuca took over for Bob Shillinglaw, who retired last spring after 39 seasons.

DeLuca Grateful for Second Chance with Delaware

When walking near the lacrosse offices at Delaware, one thing has stood out to redshirt senior midfielder and co-captain Will Hirschmann.

“We walk by our office and he’ll call you in to sit down and say, ‘What’s up?’” Hirschmann said. “He wants to learn about us about as we do with him. He’s processing everything, though he has a tougher task. We have a couple new coaches, and he has 40 guys to meet.”

Hirschmann, of course, was referencing Ben DeLuca, the new man in charge of the Blue Hens’ men’s lacrosse program. Most recently an associate head coach at Harvard, DeLuca took over in May, replacing legendary coach Bob Shillinglaw, who led Delaware to six NCAA tournaments across his 39-year career.

But in hiring DeLuca, Delaware has afforded the former Cornell defenseman and captain a second chance to lead a Division I program. The Rochester, N.Y., native served as head coach of the Big Red from 2011-13, including a final four appearance in his last season at his alma mater. But Cornell fired DeLuca after investigating a team hazing incident in which freshmen were forced to consume alcohol.

Now four seasons removed from that end — and with a 2014 NCAA championship ring in hand after coaching under John Danowski at Duke — DeLuca said he has grown “tremendously” as a person.

“I can tell you that it was an incredible learning experience for me and a great growth opportunity for me to demonstrate the attributes and the behaviors that I advocate as a coach and leader for the young men in my program,” DeLuca said. “Adversity reveals character. I’m hopeful that was the case for me.”

“I don’t think I can encompass everything I’ve learned and how much it’s impacted me aside from saying that it caused a lot of self-reflection and a lot of growth and learning,” DeLuca added.

“Adversity reveals character. I'm hopeful that was the case for me." — Delaware men's lacrosse coach Ben DeLuca

DeLuca has set high marks for his new team and himself. He noted that his coaching and family responsibilities are closely intertwined. His wife, the former Laurie Tortorelli, was an All-American goalie for the women’s lacrosse team at Delaware. They met when both were assistant coaches at Cornell. They have 8- and 6-year-old daughters, Elizabeth and Anne, respectively.

DeLuca doesn’t “act differently in front of my team than how I do at the dinner table with my daughters,” he said. “It’s the same person.”

That quality stuck out to Hirschmann in particular, who said DeLuca’s passion and commitment to turning the Blue Hens into a national contender are noticeable. Delaware last recorded a winning record in 2011, when it went 11-7, won the CAA title and reached the NCAA tournament.

“Something he has done that’s pretty cool is even when we come in and are lifting at 7 o’clock in the morning, he’s out there lifting with us and going through our workouts with us,” Hirschmann said. “He shows he’s willing to come in and work too.”

Much of the same held true for Jackson Finigan, also a redshirt senior midfielder and co-captain. Finigan, a former star at Deerfield Academy (Mass.), recalled specifically when the team first met DeLuca.

It came during exams for the spring 2017 semester, and nearly half the team was already home on summer break. But “15 or 20 guys” gathered in the locker room,  Finigan said, with teammates, alumni and graduated seniors calling in, just like a conference call. That allowed DeLuca, who found out in the morning that he would succeed Shillinglaw and traveled to Delaware for the 4 p.m. meeting, to leave a first impression.

“Coach talked about how he’s been where we want to be, and not in a bragging way,” Finigan said. “He believes he can get us there, and that really hit home with me. He’s very passionate about what he does and what he wants to do for this program.”

That last part — DeLuca’s lofty goal for Delaware lacrosse — is what he spoke extensively about in a 25-minute phone interview with US Lacrosse Magazine. His first order of business has been creating meaningful relationships with underclassmen and upperclassmen alike.

“We want to get to know these young men and get to build strong, honest relationships with them and make sure that they understand we’re here to help them be the best that we can be — not just in terms of winning lacrosse games, but in the classroom and the community and ultimately in life,” DeLuca said. “Building those relationships takes time. We don’t want to shortcut anything. We want to invest the proper amount of time in terms of them getting to know us and starting with the basics of communicating with ourselves and each other, so we can forge a unified team moving forward.”

To do that, DeLuca said he has given every player a clean slate and chance to earn a spot on the team. He also added that this year’s freshman class has been “terrific so far,” and he has no set number or benchmark to reach as his own recruiting classes start rolling into Newark.

Rather, DeLuca’s concern is finding student-athletes for whom “consistency” on the field, in the classroom and in the community is paramount. And that’s where his coaching staff comes in. DeLuca wants the Blue Hens one of the CAA’s top programs. That requires excellence from top to bottom.

Matt Rewkowski, an assistant under DeLuca at Cornell, will be in charge of the offense. Noah Fossner, a standout goalie at Delaware who most recently worked with DeLuca at Harvard, will be in charge of the defense. And lastly, former Ohio State faceoff specialist Trey Wilkes will serve as a volunteer coach.

“I feel very fortunate to put together what I think is a tremendous staff of passionate, knowledgeable, character-driven men to help me lead this program,” DeLuca said.

And that sort of bigger-picture, relationship-based approach was something that Delaware athletic director Chrissi Rawak was drawn to when hiring DeLuca.

“What you all know is equally, if not more, important to me and this university is character,” Rawak said at a press conference announcing DeLuca’s hiring in May. “Ben is a man of incredibly high character. His commitment to pursuing excellence each and every day, his passion for the game of lacrosse and growing in all areas of his life is real.”


DeLuca consoles Rob Pannell after Cornell's loss to Duke in the 2013 NCAA semifinals at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. DeLuca was fired the following fall amid a university investigation of a team hazing incident.

They’re high words of praise for DeLuca, a man who has not been in the limelight since his dismissal from Cornell. He stressed that he’s learned a great deal from that incident and grown as a person, which is why relationships with players and his staff are of the utmost importance as he embarks on reshaping Delaware — a team ESPN analyst Quint Kessenich called a “sleeping giant” in an article for the Baltimore Sun — into a contender.

But when asked where he wants to see the Blue Hens in five to 10 years, DeLuca doesn’t mentioned himself or any specific player. Rather, he points to the university at large, a sign that he’s part of something bigger and why Hirschmann and Finigan repeatedly said they’re excited for the future.

“I’m hoping to see a program that our alumni can be very proud of,” DeLuca said. “I’m hoping to see a program that’s competing at the highest level within our conference and nationally, and something that’s a model for the department at the University of Delaware.

“We want to represent the state of Delaware and be excellent in everything that we do,” DeLuca added. “We want to be successful on the field, in the classroom and have a significant impact on our community in a positive way.”