For a team that finished the past regular season ranked No. 1 in the nation, Duke still ended the fall with a bitter taste in its mouth. Now, the Blue Devils will start this year seeking redemption.

No. 2 Duke will return to the field Friday at 6 p.m. against William & Mary at Busch Field in Williamsburg, Va., for the first time since getting bounced by eventual national champion Delaware in last year’s NCAA quarterfinals. The Blue Devils are looking to make a similar statement in their season opener as they did a year ago, when they exploded for eight goals against the Tribe in Durham, setting the tone for a historic regular season for the program.  

“For us, especially because its the opening game, you really put the focus on your own squad. Our focus is going to be that we come out with the intensity that we have every day, and we keep to the structure that we’ve been working on and continue to build on the things we know are necessary to move down the season,” Duke head coach Pam Bustin said. “We’re going to stick to our game and make sure that we’re doing the things that we need to do best.” 

One of the most important elements of the game for Duke, however, is the opportunity to start anew and move past the demons of its early postseason exits at the hands of North Carolina and Delaware in the ACC and NCAA tournaments. The Blue Devils return six seniors, including preseason All-ACC selection Alyssa Chillano and forward Ashley Kristen, who are acutely aware that this is their final year to leave their mark on the program.  

“It’s definitely a motivating factor," Kristen said. "We’re just going to use that feeling and bring it with us toward the whole season and always remember that feeling.” 

Despite the disappointing finish to Duke’s season last year, the Blue Devils have several key pieces returning who will look to bounce back starting Friday night in Williamsburg. 

The team returns four players who reached double-digit point totals in 2016. Chillano, a center back, was the team leader in points and goals with 32 and 13, respectively, while also leading a defense that finished 12th in the nation in goals against average. 

Kristen, meanwhile, joined Chillano on the NFHCA All-South Region teams last season along with sophomore Margaux Paolino and redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Sammi Steele. 

Duke will have its hands full on defense against the Tribe, which returns more than 80 percent of its scoring from a season ago. Versatile senior Cammie Lloyd is an All-CAA first-team preseason selection who scored 36 points last season, notching 15 goals and six assists. 

Estelle Hughes was also honored with a preseason All-CAA selection after totaling 18 points in a breakout season in 2016, as was standout senior back Erin Menges, who had two goals and seven assists last fall despite playing on the other end of the field.  

“We’ve always had great respect for [William & Mary]. It’s always been a good game, and they’re well-coached, and they get some great players,” Bustin said. “As the game progresses, you start seeing some key players or certain tactical things the opponent brings. We’ll have to make adjustments as it happens."

Menges, the reigning CAA Defensive Player of the Year, and the rest of the Tribe will try to hold back a Blue Devil offense that ranked eighth in the nation in goals per game a season ago and set the program’s highest mark for goals in a single game since 2012 when the two teams met. 

Duke was also among the best teams in the nation when it came to sharing the ball last fall, finishing with the third-most assists per game. Paolino’s 14 assists last year were good for sixth in the nation for a team that averaged 3.2 assists per game. 

“The team contributions are so important. I think everybody on the roster last year found some way to contribute one way or another,” Bustin said. “If you do that, everybody stays connected and the energy stays really good throughout the season.” 

Although Friday night’s game is just the first of many for the Blue Devils this season, its significance is not lost on the team. 

“We just want to set the tone for the season in our first game [and] come out strong. We really want to focus on playing our game, playing Duke’s game and not really worrying about the opponent,” Chillano said. “Whether it’s an amazing opponent or a weaker opponent, we’re going to play our game and show everybody what we have.”