BY KONNER METZ
Managing Sports Editor
1: Football uses takeaways and just enough offense to upset FBS Navy, earn Carty’s first win
In a sizzling season opener in Annapolis, Maryland, Delaware wasted no time procuring Ryan Carty’s first victory as head coach of his alma mater, upending Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) member Navy 14-7.
Blue Hens graduate linebacker Johnny Buchanan tied a Delaware record with his 23 tackles in the win. Fellow grad linebacker Drew Nickles recorded two of the Hens’ three fumble recoveries.
Graduate quarterback Nolan Henderson began his sixth season with touchdown passes to tight end Bryce De Maille and wide receiver Chandler Harvin. Harvin’s 51-yard score was the offense’s signature play of the day, capped by the wideout’s celebratory salute.
One of the afternoon’s most memorable moments came after the game. An enthused Carty had an expletive slip in his live interview with CBS Sports Network postgame. Score one for “loose lips sink ships.”
2: Men’s lacrosse defends home turf and its CAA title, repeating as conference champion
Delaware kept its men’s lacrosse train humming by winning the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) tournament for the second straight season, this time doing so on Tubby Raymond Field.
Bolstered by a pair of 2023 Premier Lacrosse League draft picks in defenseman Owen Grant and attack Tye Kurtz, the Blue Hens returned to the NCAA playoffs and began with a 25-10 thumping of Marist in the opening round.
The Hens were tasked with No. 1 Duke in their second NCAA tournament game, and early on, it looked like an upset was in store. Delaware spooked the favored Blue Devils, leading 8-5 at halftime after holding the advantage throughout the first two quarters.
Duke staved off elimination on its home field by preserving a 12-11 lead in the closing seconds. The Blue Devils outscored the underdog 4-1 in the third quarter as the hosts’ defensive adjustments quelled a Delaware attack that had scored four of the game’s first five goals.
Duke’s physicality and fresh legs were clutch in the fourth as the top seed pulled away in ground balls. The Blue Devils finished with a 40-19 lead in ground balls that was built on a 13-2 run in the category in the final frame.
3: Field hockey overcomes nonconference woes, storms through CAA tournament
Not often can a team start 1-8 and collect a trophy at the end of the year. But the Delaware field hockey program did just that this past fall.
A disastrous September resulted in a gut check for Rolf van de Kerkhof’s team, a group led by a senior class that had been 35-17 in the past three seasons.
The three-time defending CAA champions got back on track and extended their streak to four consecutive league titles, ending the regular season 6-3 and securing the top seed in the conference bracket en route to the championship.
A pair of 6-1 victories over Northeastern and Drexel, respectively, willed Delaware to the CAA title this past November, which was the ninth conference championship for the longtime leader, Van de Kerkhof.
None of Van de Kerkhof’s previous CAA title squads had been under the .500 mark until 2022’s group. But despite the dismal start and a 10-12 record overall, a fourth straight conference trophy was clinched and the Hens even won an NCAA tournament game, a 4-0 shutout against Lehigh University.
4: Women’s basketball mounts comeback over NC A&T
Two games removed from a Senior Day loss versus the rival Drexel Dragons, Delaware’s women’s basketball program was seeking a satisfying end to its home schedule.
On a Thursday morning against North Carolina A&T, the Bob Carpenter Center was full of joyous kids thanks to the school’s “Education Day” promotion.
After a ho-hum first half, the Aggies came out firing in the third quarter, putting Delaware down double digits. The deficit for Delaware swelled to 16 points, and it seemed all hope was lost for a final win in the Bob.
But Sarah Jenkins and her crew completed a 16-point comeback in the fourth quarter and overtime, bolstered by 20 points from senior center Klarke Sconiers. It was the largest deficit Delaware women’s basketball had erased since 2011. The Blue Hens triumphed 79-75 over the Aggies in what would be their final victory of the season.
5: Nelson Jr. threatens the 40-point mark as men’s basketball topples UNCW
In front of a packed Bob Carpenter Center on Senior Day, Jameer Nelson Jr. delivered a season-defining performance.
Nelson Jr., who has since committed to transfer to Texas Christian University, carried the Blue Hens to a 75-66 victory over UNCW by scoring 39 points and drilling five three-pointers.
To start the game, star forward Jyáre Davis limped off with an injury in the early going, and a few minutes later, senior Ebby Asamoah left the game after crashing down on the floor. Neither starter returned, leaving Nelson Jr. as the one hope for the Hens to seize victory in their last home game of the year.
By the end of the afternoon, that hope turned to reality, as Nelson Jr.’s career-high points total wowed the crowd and many young basketball fans who sought autographs after the game, which the dynamic point guard graciously provided.
Nelson Jr. sported the most points scored in a game by a Blue Hen since Davon Usher notched 42 points in 2014.
6: The Blue Hen Collective is launched
Since the NCAA’s adoption of an interim policy permitting student-athletes’ monetization of their name, image, and likeness (NIL), collectives intended for a particular school’s student-athletes have become a popular entity to advertise for Division I athletic departments.
A collective, or pooling of money by fans, boosters, and businesses, is, by rule, to be independent of the athletic department, acting as a third-party agency that supports the student-athletes’ NIL activations. The journey from any given NIL collective donation to an NCAA-compliant, brand-based marketing deal with student-athlete(s) is ambiguous, though.
Despite their actual or nominal independence from universities, there is prevailing concern about collectives operating as fronts for “pay for play” that is contingent on a student-athlete’s status on a team.
In a statement by athletic director Chrissi Rawak on March 13, Delaware advertised creation of the collective designed for university athletes, the Blue Hen Collective. It is managed by Name Image Likeness LLC, which operates as a company called Student-Athlete NIL (stylized as “SANIL”).
SANIL offers agency-of-record services and legal and NCAA compliance representation, according to its website. The company also powers the collectives intended for student-athletes at “Power Five” members Rutgers, Penn State, Notre Dame, Georgia Tech, and Wake Forest. Regional neighbors of Delaware serviced by SANIL include George Washington, Duquesne, Saint Joseph’s, and Towson.
7: Softball pitching dominates en route to CAA regular-season crown, but offense evaporates in league tourney
Delaware softball clinched its second straight CAA regular-season championship with senior pitcher Emily Winburn leading the way for conference Coach of the Year Jen Steele. Winburn, who became the first Blue Hen to win CAA Pitcher of the Year, racked up a league-high 17 wins in the regular season, including a 12-3 record versus CAA foes and 1.20 ERA in the 15 conference appearances. Winburn entered the CAA tournament as a five-time CAA Pitcher of the Week in 2023 with 14 complete games and seven shutouts. The exclamation point came in her no-hitter of Hampton on May 5.
Indian River State College graduate transfer Taylor Wroten was another standout in the circle for the Blue Hens, turning in a team-best 1.90 ERA in 125 innings with an 8-3 record. Two of Wroten’s three saves closed out conference opponents. She was named an All-CAA Second Team selection, one of six All-CAA Hens.
No. 1 seed Delaware failed to back up its hardware in the conference postseason, however, as it was bounced from the double-elimination bracket with losses to No. 5 Towson and No. 7 Stony Brook. The Tigers nipped the Blue Hens 4-2 in eight innings on May 11 before Delaware bats were silenced by the Seawolves 1-0 the next day, finishing a winless tourney for the Hens.
8: Women’s basketball knocks off Big Ten foe
With first-year head coach Jenkins taking the reins of the program, bumps in the road were expected. Some nights, the Blue Hens looked like a true contender for the conference title, and other nights, the group looked disorganized and unthreatening.
But perhaps the most impressive win from the 2022-2023 campaign came in late November, down in Daytona Beach, Florida.
In non-conference action, the women’s basketball team took a hard fall to Fresno State by four points. The next day, it responded with an 83-80 triumph over Illinois, marking Delaware’s only “Power Five” win of the season.
Delaware stood tall against the Fighting Illini, as forward Makayla Pippin and Sconiers each scored 18 points. The senior Pippin added a remarkable 18 rebounds, while three other Blue Hens eclipsed double-digit points.
While Delaware’s season ended early in the CAA championship with a loss to ninth-seeded Hampton, the win over Illinois stands as a highlight to the season, especially considering Illinois finished the season 22-10 and qualified for the NCAA tournament.
9: Women’s lacrosse comes back to down Monmouth in overtime
Delaware women’s lacrosse entered its bout with Monmouth as the loser of four in a row, most recently dropping a 19-6 decision at conference favorite Stony Brook. With the Hawks entering Delaware Stadium March 25, the Blue Hens were in need of a turnaround.
Delaware delivered in overtime, defeating its guests from the Garden State 13-12. The Hens overcame Monmouth leads including 3-0 (6:18 in the first quarter), 9-4 (at the expiration of the first half), and 12-9 (8:27 in the fourth).
Delaware scored the final four goals of the game, beginning with sophomore Keira Grant finding paydirt on an assist by Coastal Carolina graduate transfer Megan Bozzi with 5:24 in regulation. The contest’s penultimate goal, sent to the cage by junior Lizzie Yurchak, came with 14 seconds to play to force OT.
Yurchak called it a game with her third straight goal serving as the winner at the 2:30 mark of overtime. All three scores by Yurchak in crunch time were unassisted. Her six total goals were a career best.
Delaware’s resilience against Monmouth was handy at the regular season’s end, as the Blue Hens’ head-to-head win ensured their place ahead of the Hawks in the final standings, earning Delaware the fourth and final seed in the CAA tournament.
10: Autumn playoff football returns to Delaware Stadium as Hens glide by Saint Francis (PA)
After racing to a 5-0 start, Delaware football took lumps in October and November. One-possession losses at William & Mary and versus Richmond were just as deflating as a 27-7 dud at Elon on Oct. 29.
The worst blow was the regular season finale at Villanova Nov. 19. The Blue Hens further imperiled their Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) playoff aspirations by way of late-game gaffes that handed the Wildcats a 29-26 win.
However, “Selection Sunday” was kind to Delaware, as the Hens’ 7-4 overall record and resume-boosting FBS win were enough to snare an at-large bid. Also key was a 42-21 September rout of Rhode Island that gave Carty’s team the convincing tiebreaker over 7-4 Rhody. The conference sent William & Mary, Richmond, New Hampshire, Elon, and the Blue Hens to the 24-team field.
Delaware drew Northeast Conference champion Saint Francis (PA) for a first-round date at Delaware Stadium. Because the Hens’ 2018 playoff appearance was a one-and-done at James Madison and the ‘2020’ run to the FCS semifinals occurred in spring 2021, the meeting with SFU marked the first fall playoff game in Newark since 2010’s national runner-up finish included home wins over Lehigh, UNH, and Georgia Southern.
The Blue Hens feasted on Thanksgiving weekend, dismantling the Red Flash 56-17. The 39-point margin of victory trails only Delaware’s 40-0 national championship crushing of Colgate in 2003 for the widest spread in the Hens’ FCS playoff history.
Elsewhere in the record book, Henderson broke Matt Nagy’s single-season touchdown passes mark when he served up a 10-yard touchdown zip to Thyrick Pitts with 6:15 to play in the first half. The future Baltimore Ravens undrafted free agent signee finished his final collegiate season with 32 TD passes.