Mizzou will face Delaware at 4:30 this Friday in their first NCAA Tournament match since April 15, 2020 in Omaha, Nebraska. This matchup also takes place in the Cornhusker State, this time in Lincoln at the Devaney Center.
When asked about the Blue Hens, Dawn Sullivan said it best: “I don’t know a whole lot about Delaware, to be honest with you.”
So, to fix that for you, our lovely readers, I’ve compiled some information you should know before watching the first set.
Name: Delaware Blue Hens
Location: Newark, Delaware
Conference: Coastal Athletic Association
However, it was announced Tuesday that they will be moving to Conference USA starting in the 2025-26 season.
Record: 24-4, 15-3 in conference play
How did they qualify: Delaware was an automatic qualifier to the tournament by winning the CAA Tournament, upsetting #1 seed Towson 3-1 in the championship game. They are currently on a 15-match win streak.
Tournament history: The Blue Hens have gone dancing four times in their program history, last making an appearance in 2011. Their other three appearances came in 2007, 08, and 10. In 2011, Delaware defeated American University 3-1 in the first round before falling to the Penn St. Nittany Lions in the second round. They have never advanced to the second weekend.
Players to watch:
Lani Mason, 5-9 Graduate Outside Hitter: Mason started every match this year while leading the Blue Hens this season in points, points per set, kills, and kills per set. She has been named First Team All-CAA in three consecutive seasons, and was the 2022 CAA Player of the Year in addition to being a 2022 AVCA All-American Honorable Mention. Shutting down Mason will be key for the Tigers in this match, as she hit .185 or below in all four Delaware losses this season.
Ezgi Basaranlar, 5-11 Graduate Setter: Another mainstay in the rotation, Basaranlar has been named Second Team All-CAA each of the last three seasons. She set a career-high this year with 1,030 assists so far, besting her previous high of 836 in 2022. Like Dilara Gedikoglu, Basaranlar is a native of Turkey and a cornerstone of her team.
Kirah Johnson, 6-0 Senior Middle Blocker: Johnson was also a Second Team All-CAA member this year, taking on a larger role in starting every single match and finishing second on the team in kills. While Mason is the go-to attacker for the Blue Hens, Johnson makes the most of her opportunities with a team-leading .355 hitting percentage on 574 total attempts. If Mizzou shuts down Mason, look for Delaware to turn to Johnson for some offense.
The Blue Hens have only hit below .190 in three matches this year, all of them resulting in losses.
Delaware is 24-1 when they hit above .170.
School history: Delaware traces its founding back to 1743 in New London, Pennsylvania, by Rev. Dr. Francis Alison. The institution was opened to help create an “educated clergy,” and its first class of students contained three people who would go on to be signers of the Declaration of Independence. The school was moved to Newark in 1765 and began to grant degrees in 1834. In 1921, what was then known as Delaware College merged with a women’s college to become the University of Delaware.
Delaware has produced what I would consider a surprising number of notable alumni, starting with the current president and first lady, Joe and Jill Biden.
On the athletics side of things, WNBA superstar Elena Delle Donne, former Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco, 2002 NFL MVP Rich Gannon, and former Chicago Bears head coach and current Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy are all Blue Hens.
In addition, former Philadelphia Phillies manager and Chicago Cubs general manager Dallas Green, original Sports Center anchor Tom Mees, and the first Phillie Phanatic Dave Raymond are all Delaware graduates.
Other notable alumni include former longtime ER actress Yvette Freeman, Gore-Tex inventor Robert Gore, sportswriter Jeff Pearlman, and George Thorogood of George Thorogood & the Destroyers.