Villanova finds itself in new territory. The Wildcats are 5-0, the best start in the program’s history.
On Saturday at Delaware Stadium, Villanova found itself in a spot that’s been familiar so far in 2018: Locked in a tight game late against a strong opponent. Again, the Wildcats persevered, earning a 13-12 win against Delaware.
Christian Cuccinello — who this week was named to the Tewaaraton Watch List — had seven goals, including the final two, continuing an incredible start to his season. He has 19 goals and an assist. Villanova sits at No. 7 in the Maverik Media Poll.
“He just seemed,” coach Mike Corrado paused. “He had an extra pep in his step before the game. The coaches, we were like, ‘Cucc is going to have a big game.’”
Big is an understatement for the focal point of the Villanova offense, which has six legitimate scoring threats on the field.
“He beats you with a quick step sometimes. Beats you with power, the shoulder. He’s got both hands,” said Corrado.
He had all three Villanova goals in the second quarter after feeling out the Delaware defense.
“They were pretty slow to go and like to put guys on an island. We knew if we dodged hard, we could get good looks at the goal,” Cuccinello said.
However, when Villanova got good looks at the goal, the Wildcats were often face to face with a brick wall in goalie Matt DeLuca. DeLuca had 14 saves, 11 of which came in the first half and compensated for a Villanova face-off advantage. The Wildcats’ Dan Fisher won 17-of-27, 11-of-14 in the first half.
“He does a tremendous job in his preparation,” said Delaware coach Ben DeLuca, of his goalie (no relation). “He watches a lot of tape. He works on his craft. He is meticulous working on his craft,” he said, adding he’s helped by the coaching of assistant Noah Fossner.
It was the second win against a local rival this week, with a 12-9 win against Drexel on Tuesday. Saturday was Villanova’s third one-goal victory of the season, which included OT wins against Penn State and Yale.
The Drexel win came at a cost. John Kluh, the sixth-year midfielder, was injured in the game. According to Corrado, it is an injury to his knee, but he did not tear his ACL for a third time. He is likely to miss two weeks, with Corrado hopeful he will return when the Wildcats play Maryland on March 17.
Delaware gave Villanova as much of a test as some of its highly-ranked early-season opponents like Yale and Penn State. Playing a deliberate offense, the Blue Hens were efficient, making the most of few possessions in the first half and grinding down the Villanova defense, which couldn’t get stops.
Senior midfielder Dean DiSimone had five goals. Sophomore attackman Bryce Reid had four goals, and senior midfielder Will Hirschmann had two goals and an assist.
Delaware stormed out to a two-goal lead, its defense — a standout performance from Austin Haynes — making stops, then setting up the offense. The Hens had multiple two-goal leads throughout, until late in the third quarter.
Villanova put together its first three-goal run late in the third quarter into the fourth to take the lead.
Freshman Keegan Khan netted his seventh of the year, finishing on the crease off a feed from Connor Kirst to cut the Hens’ lead to 10-9. Defenseman Connor Lalley was flagged with an unnecessary roughness call on the play. On E.M.O., With five seconds left in the quarter, Kirst fired a rocket from up top. On the play, Matt DeLuca was flagged with an unsportsmanlike conduct.
Villanova started the next quarter with the ball, and made short work of their man advantage, scoring 14 seconds in with Seibel the beneficiary of quick Villanova ball movement.
Delaware’s DiSimone tied it at 11, forcing Villanova to pull goalie Nick Testa for Michael Toomey. DiSimone scored on him less than a minute later to take the lead.
“They share the ball well. They’re patient. They do a good job of executing the gameplan, which has been varied over the first few games of the season,” said DeLuca of his offense. “Credit our senior leaders of Will Hirschmann, Dean DiSimone and Jackson Finigan, Andrew Romagnoli and Joe Eisele. The majority of our leadership is in that end. There’s a lot of maturity. The guys have played big minutes and it’s showing for us.”
Toomey, with fewer than six minutes remaining, made a diving stick save as the game was tied. He had a dramatic fist pump and hugged his defenders. The energy he provided was a big reason Corrado put him in the game.
“I don’t blame Nick for a lot of what happened today,” said Corrado. “We asked him to make a lot of difficult saves. We needed a save, a spark.”
Cuccinello scored the next two goals to seal the win.
Villanova has a rough stretch coming. On Tuesday afternoon, the Wildcats host Brown. Then, it’s a trip to Penn and a home game against Maryland.
Delaware (3-1) plays Mercer on Tuesday, then visits Binghamton and Johns Hopkins.
“The effort and the attitude of our guys has been fantastic,” said DeLuca. “The buy-in, the leadership of our seniors and captains has been fantastic. They’ve embraced the change. They’ve embraced what we’ve wanted as a coaching staff. We’re far from perfect, but we’re happy to be 3-1.”
-Contributed by ZB from IL