From the Sports Editor: Hens set to battle for NCAA field hockey title

Over the last few decades, Delaware sports fans have gotten used to watching Blue Hens go after a national championship in the fall.

But this group of Hens is a little different.

Coached by a 6-foot-6 Dutchman and led by a 5-foot-9 German, it’s the UD field hockey team that has made a name for itself by rallying to stun No. 1 Duke, 3-2, in overtime in the NCAA Division I Tournament quarterfinals last Sunday.

That puts the Hens just two wins away from a national title.

Eighth-ranked Delaware will face No. 14 Princeton on Friday at 4:45 p.m. in the semifinals at Old Dominion. Fourth-ranked North Carolina takes on No. 6 Connecticut in the other semi with the winners playing for the national crown on Sunday at 1 p.m.

Delaware field hockey coach Rolf van de Kerkhof congratulates sophomore Greta Nauck after her goal in OT gave the Blue Hens a 3-2 win at Duke in the NCAA Division I quarterfinals on Sunday. (Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell)

Delaware field hockey coach Rolf van de Kerkhof congratulates sophomore Greta Nauck after her goal in OT gave the Blue Hens a 3-2 win at Duke in the NCAA Division I quarterfinals on Sunday. (Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell)

The Hens (21-2), who haven’t lost since early September, will tell you that they’ve had high expectations for themselves all along.

Not that it makes this opportunity any less exciting for them.

“We didn’t follow our game plan, but we never stopped believing, even when we were down by two goals,” sophomore Greta Nauck said after her OT goal gave the Hens their memorable win over Duke. “We’ve worked so hard to achieve our goal of reaching the Final Four.”

Nauck, a native of Krefeld, Germany, may be as good as any field hockey player in the country.

With 31 goals in 23 games, the tall midfielder leads Division I with 1.35 goals per game.

Delaware has done big things in field hockey before. In 1982, the Hens also made the Final Four, finishing third in the country after blanking Penn State, 4-0, in the consolation game.

It’s been coach Rolf van de Kerkhof who’s led this revival. A native of The Netherlands, the enthusiastic sixth-year coach has brought in five players from his native country.

(Cape Henlopen High grad Maggie Delp is the only Delaware native on the squad).

Remember, Van deKerkhof left a Big 10 coaching job — he was the head coach at Michigan State — to come to Delaware. He’s now led the Hens to four straight Colonial Athletic Association titles.

“This group is so mature and driven,” said Van dekerkhof. “My hat’s off to them for the way they’ve prepared and competed all season long. They really drive themselves and ultimately that’s what you want in a player’s group. They want it and they’ll go out and do it.”

Callahan going with the flow

Former Wesley quarterback Joe Callahan, now with the Cleveland Browns, made a surprise visit to Dover to watch the Wolverines beat William Paterson and clinch a berth in the Division III playoffs Saturday. He is pictured with Wesley College President Bob Clark after the game. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

Former Wesley quarterback Joe Callahan, now with the Cleveland Browns, made a surprise visit to Dover to watch the Wolverines beat William Paterson and clinch a berth in the Division III playoffs Saturday. He is pictured with Wesley College President Bob Clark after the game. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

Somewhere in Green Bay, Joe Callahan has a brand-new couch that he’s barely used.

Back in early September, when he made the Packers’ 53-man roster, the former Wesley College standout thought it was OK to go out and make the big purchase.

But that was before Green Bay released Callahan and then the Saints picked him up.

And then the Saints released the undrafted rookie quarterback and the Browns picked him up.

“I got to use it (the couch) for about a week or two,” Callahan admitted, while checking out the Wesley-William Paterson game on Saturday. “It’s still in Green Bay. I’ve still got the apartment. I really don’t know what to do with the stuff. I’m not sure what’s going to happen.”

You can’t really blame the 22-year-old for a feeling a little uncertain about everything right now.

Not that Callahan is complaining. He knows there’s countless other guys who would give anything to be in his shoes right now.

All he can do is try to learn as much as he can and as quickly as he can. Right now, that means trying to be ready for whatever the Browns need him to do.

“Getting thrown into new offenses, I’m studying the offenses constantly,” said Callahan. “And trying to learn as many names as I can on the team.

“Both New Orleans and Cleveland did a good job of welcoming me. It’s tough because I’ve been in the locker room when people get cut and the new guy comes in. I always tried to talk to them. … But no one’s a jerk or anything. It’s been fun.”

As for the future, Callahan isn’t trying to predict what happens next. He just has to make the best of wherever he is.

“After the past couple weeks, I’m always a little on edge,” he said. “But I feel good in Cleveland. I feel comfortable with the offense. If my number does get called, then I’ll be ready.”

Odds & ends

•Delmar High will continue the Henlopen Conference’s proud tradition in field hockey when it plays in the state finals on Friday night. The Wildcats face Tower Hill at 7 p.m. at UD’s Rullo Stadium.

Downstate teams have won the last seven titles and 11 crowns overall. Delmar, which in the finals for the sixth time since 2002, will be trying to join a list of Henlopen Conference field hockey state champions that includes Cape Henlopen, Sussex Tech, Caesar Rodney and Milford.

Laurel, Polytech and Seaford have also played in the title game.

•At Friday’s field hockey game, Tower Hill grad Caitlin Van Sickle, a U.S. Olympic team member will be signing autographs from 6-7 p.m. DIAA programs will contain a commemorative photo of Van Sickle and space for an autograph.

•The Delaware Interscholastic Association recently approved the addition of Special Olympics Unified Flag Football and Special Olympics Unified Track and Field as sports. Both sports will have regular-season schedules leading up to state championships.

The first officially-sanctioned Special Olympics Unified Flag football state championship game will be held on Dec. 3 at Delaware Stadium in between the Division I and II state title games.

•Former Henlopen Conference standouts Lexi Prillaman (Caesar Rodney) and Brooke Beam (Indian River), both members of the Richmond women’s soccer squad, were named to the Atlantic 10 All-Conference team.

Prillaman, a sophomore, was a second-team selection after finishing third in the A-10 with 12 goals and second with eight assists. Beam, a freshman, made the league’s All-Rookie team with three goals and four assists.

•Cape Henlopen High grad Tess Bernheimer became the first Drexel field hockey player to be named Rookie of the Year in the Colonial Athletic Association. The freshman tallied six goals, including a pair of game-winners, with four assists while starting every game for the Dragons.

•Delaware football fans are reminded that the starting time for the Blue Hens’ home game for Villanova was moved to 3:30 p.m.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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