BY KONNER METZ
Managing Sports Editor
Rolf van de Kerkhof has coached more than a handful of championship teams, but the 2022 version of Delaware field hockey checked some unique boxes off.
Nearing the end of September with a 1-8 record, playing in the NCAA Tournament was likely the last thought on the team’s mind. But that is exactly what they did last week in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
The Blue Hens qualified for the NCAA 18-team bracket thanks to their Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) title victory earlier this month. A Wednesday 4-0 win versus Lehigh University in the tournament’s opening round matched up Delaware with No. 1 overall seed North Carolina on Friday.
The Tar Heels scored five straight after an early goal by Delaware junior Julia Duffhuis to take down the Hens 5-1 in first-round action, ending the rollercoaster ride for van de Kerkhof and his squad.
“We had a number of good moments but not enough to fight ourselves back into the game,” van de Kerkhof said after the loss.
North Carolina (18-0, 6-0 ACC) had a staggering 28 shots, including 12 during a first period onslaught of opportunities. Meanwhile, Delaware (10-12, 5-1 CAA) mustered only six total shots, though three of those were on the goal.
Perhaps the biggest bright spot from Friday was graduate student and goalkeeper Lizzie Gaebel’s performance. She tallied a career-high 15 saves, good for a 75% save rate.
Gaebel, one of the senior leaders on the team, heated up to help Delaware storm back into CAA contention. The Hens won their last five regular season conference games after a September defeat at Monmouth. In the CAA tournament, Gaebel and the defense allowed just one goal each to Northeastern and Drexel.
“As a program we would like to thank our entire player group for staying the course, trusting the process and never [stopping] believing that we would play our best hockey when it mattered most, the post season,” van de Kerkhof said in a university press release.
Senior midfielder and CAA Championship Most Outstanding Player Ashlyn Carr was another critical piece of this year’s Hens, playing the second-most minutes (1,079) and scoring the third-most points (22) on the team.
The ninth conference title for Delaware’s head coach was the first such team that had an overall record below the .500 mark.
But to the Hens’ credit, nine of their 12 losses came versus nationally ranked non-conference opponents. Four of those nine games were one-possession deficits, including a September home overtime loss against then No. 10 Connecticut.
Delaware’s turnaround from a disastrous start was jump started back on Sept. 30 versus the same Drexel Dragons that ended up in the CAA final. The Hens used five saves from Gaebel and a second half Berber Bakermans goal to secure a 2-1 victory, and finally a second notch in the win column.
From there, Bakermans, junior Kiki Oudshoorn and the rest of the offense picked up the pace, averaging three goals per game, much improved from less than two goals per game in the opening nine matches.
Bakermans, a junior, ended the season with a team-high 17 assists and will likely be a leading force of the midfield next year. Despite losing a strong senior class in Gaebel, Carr, Grace Hoepfner, Morgan Rigual and Lisa Kater, van de Kerkhof has shown the ability to rebuild the program’s talent year in, year out.
After losing star midfielder Femke Strien one year ago, among other graduates, the Hens were able to rebound with Carr, Bakermans and CAA Defensive Player of the Year Duffhuis on the all-conference first team.
“This team, had many underclassmen playing quality minutes,” van de Kerkhof said. “I am confident with what we have returning and joining next year. The Blue Hens will be back in the position to compete for championships.”