Managing Sports Editor
The Grant Stadium sky was adorned with streaks of an orange tint after Delaware’s 2023 women’s soccer season opener Thursday night. That sunset was the only trace of the color following the Blue Hens’ 1-0 triumph over the Syracuse University Orange.
The win is groundbreaking in more ways than one for Delaware: it marks first-year Head Coach Kelly Lawrence’s first victory with the Hens and the program’s first defeat of an active Power Five conference member. Syracuse competes in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), in which it was picked to finish 12th out of 14 schools in the league coaches’ preseason poll.
“You want an elite experience? This is an elite experience,” Lawrence said when asked about her decision to accept the top role at Delaware late last fall. “It doesn’t matter, Power Five [or] mid-major.”
Blue Hens women’s soccer did topple Virginia Tech on Sept. 24, 1994, but at that time, the Hokies were not yet in the Power Five ACC.
Lawrence remembers feeling compelled by the allure of the Blue Hens’ facilities and support as she considered a move from her assistant position at Penn State.
“When I walked away at the end of my interview, I said, ‘How do I not take this job?’”
Captain midfielder and defender Katie Hackley is quite happy she did.
“Kelly coming in has been great,” Hackley, a senior, said. “I think the environment is so different in a positive way.”
Hackley and her teammates withstood a chippy second half that saw Syracuse and Delaware trade hits with the occasional collision to the grass, but no scoring. The Hens’ motivation to earn their coach a winning start won out.
“The energy, it’s a huge part of our program,” Hackley said. “From the very last player on the bench to the 90 minutes you’re playing, we want energy to be consistent, we want it to be positive, and that was huge.”
Delaware did not have sophomore forward Izzy Lane available due to an apparent injury, and the Blue Hens were without junior midfielder Caitlin St. Leger for the home stretch of the second half after a cramp struck.
Through it all, Hackley saw the Hens keep it together to finish the upset.
“That’s what we value here,” Hackley said. “Like Kelly said, it’s about togetherness for us. Great team effort, it was from the goalie all the way through the forwards. It was a gritty game.”
The defensive battle’s only score came 6:32 into the first half, when senior forward Raychel Speicher found the back of the net on the assist from a fellow senior, midfielder Lea Panagiotidis.
For the duration of the match, Delaware did not look back, finishing the shutout with what Lawrence emphasized was team defense. Delaware outshot ’Cuse 13-7, including 6-3 in shots on goal.
“We’re a connected team defending,” Lawrence said. “The whole team defends together, the whole team attacks together. Yes, proud of our goalkeepers, proud of our back line, but it starts in the front, and I thought they did a fantastic job executing our game plan.”
The Blue Hens used two players in goal, beginning with senior goalie Mia Reed’s two saves in the first half. In the second, senior Temple University transfer Kyla Burns recorded one save in her Delaware debut.
With the keepers splitting time, the only Hen to play all 90 minutes was sophomore defender Constanze Viehmann.
“This is a really special group,” Hackley said. “It’s so exciting, but I said in the huddle we need to keep the highs not too high, the lows not too low. We gotta keep our heads going into this next match.”
That match is on Sunday, Aug. 20, when Delaware makes its first road trip of 2023 by visiting Liberty University for a 1:00 PM eastern start streaming on ESPN+.
Lawrence, her unbeaten Blue Hen record safe for the next 48 hours, sees the early returns from her team’s effort in summer conditioning.
“Just super proud of this group,” Lawrence said. “They really bought into what we’re trying to do here. We’ve only had about 17 days together, so they’ve believed in what we’re trying to do.”