After tacking on two more wins in Boston last weekend, the second-ranked Blue Devils return home hoping to extend a six-game winning streak and ride their offensive momentum into their final few ACC games.
Duke continues its tough slate this weekend with back to back games against No. 9 Syracuse and No. 23 Iowa, its ninth and 10th ranked opponents of the season. The Blue Devils take on the Orange and Hawkeyes at noon Saturday and Sunday, respectively, at Jack Katz Stadium, hoping to maintain the offensive dominance that has seen eight different scorers in the six matchups since Duke’s last loss.
“We’re excited that we were able to take care of some pretty challenging games on the road and now come home to face two challenging teams here at our own field,” head coach Pam Bustin said. “We’ve got our work cut out for us, but to be able to do it in an environment that we’re really comfortable with will allow us to focus more on what we have to do.”
This weekend, the challenges take the shape of Syracuse and Iowa, who both come to Durham desperately needing a win. The Orange (9-3, 1-3 in the ACC) are coming off a win against No. 16 Princeton, but have struggled to start ACC play, losing to No. 7 North Carolina and No. 12 Louisville the past two weekends. Iowa (5-7) began Big Ten play with three straight losses before beating Indiana 4-3 last weekend.
Syracuse has outscored its opponents this season 33-7, with forward Elaine Carey leading the Orange with six goals. Syracuse also has twice as many corner attempts as its opponents so far. The Blue Devils (9-1, 2-1) have been efficient in defending against corners, but have struggled to convert them themselves.
“I think patience in our game plan is really important. Making sure we stay on it and don’t get caught up in too much emotion,” Bustin said. “If we stay to the game and enjoy the game—I think that’s when Duke plays the best hockey.”
Iowa presents a similar offensive challenge for the Blue Devils, as the Hawkeyes are led by a strong underclassman corps in sophomore Katie Birch and freshman Maddy Murphy. Iowa is historically one of the most accomplished teams in the Big Ten, with five conference tournament titles and 22 NCAA tournament appearances in program history.
Birch, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year last season, has two hat tricks on the season so far and currently leads the team with 12 goals, 27 points and 52 shots. Murphy comes in at second for the Hawkeyes with seven goals. Four of Iowa's other seven freshmen have scored this season as well.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to have an outer region team here on our own field. Iowa’s a great Big 10 team, great history,” Bustin said. “It’s a different kind of challenge for us but one that we need as we prepare for the postseason.”
The Blue Devils will look to counter these two strong offensive teams with some firepower of their own in the form of junior Rose Tynan. The New Zealand native leads Duke in every major offensive category. Tynan is coming off a career-high performance with five points against Boston University last Sunday, and she also ranks among the top four players in the conference in goals per game and points per game.
The Blue Devils have also seen continued defensive consistency from goalkeeper Sammi Steele, who matched her career high with nine saves against Boston College. Steele continues to lead all ACC goalkeepers with a .809 save percentage and is also second in the conference with a .863 goals against average through 10 games.
“We just need to keep being a better version of ourselves from day to day, and the team has done a great job of that. We’ve been hard on them only because there is so much talent here and there is so much room for us to continue to grow and become a better team,” Bustin said. “We just want to make sure we stay on top of that growth and don’t let an opportunity pass us by, whether it’s another practice or another game.”