(Photo Courtesy of Delaware Athletics)
Welcome to the Fall Snapshot series. Throughout the fall I will be taking an early look at all 75 DI men’s college lacrosse teams and giving a snapshot of where each is heading into the 2023 season.
Head Coach: Ben DeLuca (6th season, 2018-Present)
Delaware 2022 Record: 13-6 (3-2 CAA)
Key Departures: Mark Bieda (M), Jason Seiter (SSDM)
Key Returners: JP Ward (A), Mike Robinson (A), Tye Kurtz (A), Owen Grant (D), Matt Kilkeary (G)
Transfer Additions: OJ Miller (FO)
After multiple years of climbing since Ben DeLuca’s arrival ahead of the 2018 season, Delaware finally reached the top of the CAA last spring and then pulled off the biggest upset of the NCAA Tournament with a 10-9 win over No. 2 seed Georgetown in D.C. And they did so just days after throttling Robert Morris 20-8 in a play-in game.
The Blue Hens illustrious season ended in the NCAA Quarterfinals with a 10-8 defeat against the eventual national runner-up Cornell Big Red in Columbus, Ohio. It was the best season Delaware has had in nearly a decade and marked the return of the Blue Hens to the top of the CAA totem pole.
Heading into 2023, Delaware is a program that is very much back and once again has the roster to make them a top-20 team and the top dog in the CAA. The Blue Hens return practically everybody from last seasons’ squad with midfielder Mark Bieda being the only significant loss.
How Much Higher Can This Offense Fly?
Last season, Delaware had the best scoring offense in the CAA (20th in DI) as it averaged 13.42 goals per game and only failed to reach double digits once (Cornell). On top of that, Delaware also had a 33.8% offensive efficiency rating and had average possession time of 42 seconds, per Lacrosse Reference. They also boasted the 16th-best shooting percentage in DI lacrosse (31.6%) and saw 58% of their goals come off assists.
That unit was led by an attack trio of JP Ward (40G/32A), Mike Robinson (53G/15A), and Tye Kurtz (52G/15A). Those three alone produced a combined 207 points and 145 goals last spring and accounted for 56% of the Blue Hens’ offensive production. All three are back in 2023, as well as midfielders Clay Miller (28G/12A) and Drew Lenkaitis (13G/12A).
All but one of Delaware’s top six offensive players will be back in blue and so will Cam Acchione (11G/7A) and Nick Jessen (7G/8A) who saw a combined 15 starts at the midfield last season with most of them coming from during the first month and a half of the season. With as much as this offense brings back and as good as they were last season, even the slightest bit of improvement would make this unit that much more dangerous.
Does The Faceoff Production Swing Back Up?
In 2021, Jake Hervada served as the Blue Hens’ primary option at the dot and went 91-for-179 (50%). Roland Hockenbery went 44-for-102 (43%) as the back up whole Logan Premtaj was the third option and went 58%, winning 31 of 53 draws. With Hervada’s exit, Premtaj stepped into the fold as the top option in 2022 with Hockenbery serving as the backup. Neither would break the 50% mark on the year, making the faceoff unit of this team’s few weaknesses.
Premtaj went 197-for-415 (47.5%) whole Hockenbery went 38-for-87 (43.7%). As a team, Delaware ended the season ranked 50th (out of 73) in team faceoff win percentage as they went 240-for-525 (45.7%). Amongst CAA teams, the Blue Hens were even worse with a 43.2% winning percentage against conference foes to put them last in the league in that category.
Delaware doesn’t have too many questions needing to be addressed coming into the 2023 season, but of the few they do have the faceoff dot is probably the biggest one. If they can get that production to swing back up to 50% or above next season, things will likely only improve for an already strong squad. Delaware will return both Premtaj and Hockenbery, and brings in Seton Hill (DII) transfer OJ Miller at the position.
Can The Defense Stay Hot?
With defenseman Owen Grant and goalie Matt Kilkeary headlining the unit, Delaware was expected to have another good defense in 2022. And they did, indeed. The Hens ended the season as the 19th-best scoring defense as they allowed 10.79 goals per game. But just like this team as a whole, the middle of the season brought some ups and downs. Those were specifically on display during the Blue Hens’ stretch from March 5th through April 9th. Delaware lost to Michigan, Villanova, UMass, and Hofstra during that time while also scoring consecutive wins over Marist and Johns Hopkins. But after that Hofstra loss where they fell to 0-2 in the CAA things changed, and that was especially true for the defense.
Through the last month of the season, Delaware went 7-1 with that lone loss coming to Cornell in the NCAA Quarterfinals. The four wins before then came against Drexel, Towson, Robert Morris, and Georgetown and each saw the Blue Hens’ hold their opponent to single digits. The duo of Owen Grant and Matt Kilkeary was especially good during that late season stretch. Grant won his matchup in all of those final five contests, which included holding Georgetown’s Dylan Watson to no goals and no assists and Cornell’s CJ Kirst to just one goal. Kilkeary put up 14 and 12-save performances against Georgetown and Delaware. He averaged 11.8 saves in each of the final eight games of the season, which included a season-high 19-save game against Fairfield.
With the Blue Hens returning as much as they do from last season’s defense, things could very well get even better on that end of the field. And especially so if they can stay as consistent as possible from February through May.
Potential Breakout Player
Nick Jessen, Midfield, Senior
For this portion I usually don’t pick players who have as much production as Jessen does. He had five points a sophomore, 15 as a junior, and that number should only increase as a senior in 2023 and that is especially true with the hole needed to be filled at the midfield. After a seven-goal, eight-assists 2022 campaign in which he saw eight starts, Jessen could be one of many who explodes next season for the Blue Hens’ offense.
Delaware brings in a nine-man 2022 recruiting class that features players from four different states, including New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Indiana.