Fall Ball Focus: Experienced Delaware Squad Set to Build on Quarterfinal Run

PHOTO BY KEVIN P. TUCKER

All-American attackman Mike Robinson will join Tye Kurtz and JP Ward as starting attackmen on a unit that combined for 207 points last season.


It’s not often that a coach can look at a roster and see so many familiar faces, but that’s the luxury Delaware head coach Ben DeLuca has as he gets ready for his sixth season in charge of the Blue Hens.

He’s not even trying to downplay it like many other coaches mightt.

“We return a lot,” DeLuca says matter-of-factly.

The Blue Hens have 15 seniors on the roster — five of them fifth-year players — two graduate students and another 13 juniors.

The starting attack of Tye Kurtz, Mike Robinson and JP Ward — who combined for 207 points last season — returns intact. All-American Owen Grant, who ranked 11th in the country with 1.8 caused turnovers per game, returns to anchor the other end of the field.

In fact, only one player that started double-digit games — midfielder Mark Bieda, a 50-point scorer — is not returning in 2023. That doesn’t mean the door is closed on change.

“Everything is wide open,” DeLuca said. “The young guys bring some energy and excitement.”

LAST SEASON

Delaware spent much of last season with its back against the wall. A three-game, midseason losing streak included two straight losses to open CAA play.

“If you have a third conference loss, you’re probably not making the [conference] tournament,” DeLuca said. “After the second loss, we got together and focused on what needed to happen. Every game was a win or go home. We couldn’t worry about winning three or four, we had to win this one.”

Delaware did more than that. The Blue Hens won their final three regular season games, all by one or two goals, to make the CAA tournament. With new life, Delaware blew out Drexel 19-6 in the CAA semifinals and then handled Towson 11-6 to win the league and earn a spot in the NCAA tournament.

A play-in win over Robert Morris was followed by a stunning upset win at No. 2 seed Georgetown in the NCAA tournament. Delaware then gave eventual national runner-up Cornell all it could handle in a 10-8 loss in the NCAA quarterfinals.







BIGGEST FALL QUESTION

How does Delaware take the next step?

Delaware hadn’t won a CAA playoff game in DeLuca’s tenure before last season, but the building process had been on the right track. From seven wins in his first season in 2018 to double-digit win totals in each of the last three full seasons, it’s been a steady progression upwards. The postseason success in 2022 was another key milestone.

With so many familiar faces this year, one of DeLuca’s primary focuses for the fall was just monitoring the health of his roster. He is optimistic that everyone should be a full go for the spring. With that accomplished, the next question is how to maintain the momentum from the end of last season and take the next step.

Consistency has been a hallmark of DeLuca’s coaching career and that will be a focus for 2023. Last year’s team was forced to take things one game at a time to survive. They were successful in doing so, but DeLuca wants more.

“There’s a certain amount of pride [in reaching the NCAA quarterfinals],” DeLuca said, “but we didn’t play well enough to advance. None of us are satisfied. How are we going to get better? We have to evolve. We need to be a team that’s ready to compete at a high level at the beginning of the season and keep improving throughout.”

One key, as it is for every team, is goaltending. Matt Kilkeary was the starter in 2021 and began 2022 as the starter, but he was pushed by freshman Paul Reidy. Reidy started seven games, winning four, but Kilkeary took over down the stretch, starting the final eight games and finishing the year with a 53.0 save percentage. Both experienced netminders are back.

MARQUEE ADDITION

Brendan Powers

To be candid, it’s going to be tough for younger players to crack this veteran lineup, but Powers, along with attackman Finn Morgan and midfielder Roland Marcel, have the chance to add some depth to the Blue Hens offense.

Powers, from Avon Old Farms, was a three-sport athlete in high school, playing soccer, hockey and lacrosse. He’s also lacrosse royalty at Delaware. His father, Randy, was a three-time All-American playing for the Blue Hens, including second-team honors in 1985 and 1986, and he finished with 161 goals and 241 points in his career.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE

Kevin Lynch

After transferring from Division II Queens, Lynch played in three games during the COVID-shortened 2020 season and four games in 2021. That was all he needed to make his mark on the program, getting elected as a captain for 2022. Starting all 14 games last season, Lynch finished second on the team with 13 caused turnovers.

Back for his second year as a captain alongside Grant, the CAA Defensive Player of the Year, Lynch will be a key component as the Blue Hens look to improve a defense that was good, ranking 19th in the country last year with an average of 10.8 goals allowed per game, but can go to another level.

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