After advancing to the semifinals of last year’s NCAA tournament, Duke is ready to bring back the energy and hopes to make a run at a national title this May.

Despite graduating three key offensive players—midfielder Sarah Bullard and attackers Virginia Crotty and Christie Kaestner—the Blue Devils have an up-and-coming underclassmen offense that will supplement the team’s well-established defense.

“We’re very excited for the coming of the start of the season, and we return a good deal of people in general and a good amount of our roster from last season,” head coach Kerstin Kimel said. “We think we’re well-positioned to compete for a national championship this year.”

Duke will lack the veteran experience and strong leadership in the frontcourt it has seen in the past few years, but the team is certain that once the kinks get worked out, the Blue Devils will be a formidable opponent.

“Given that we lost three pretty significant players on the offensive side of the ball, we’ll be developing more of an identity on the offense, and integrating these new faces into the offense will take time,” Kimel said. “We can’t expect to start the season off in the same place we’ll be in May, and I imagine the unit will evolve quite a bit.”

The Blue Devils ended their 2011 season with a 14-8 loss to Maryland in the NCAA semifinals.

After opening the season Saturday with a home game against Bucknell, the team will go on to face both 2011 national champion Northwestern and the Terrapins in back-to-back weekend matches at home in February, where Kimel said she hopes her players will be able to adjust faster and become accustomed to high-level, elite competitors.

“There’s always a part of me that thinks getting some teams earlier is better than getting them at the end of the season, and I like the fact that we’re opening up so early,” Kimel said. “It’ll help us figure out some things about ourselves early on; we’ll be a work-in-progress this season.”

A problem that has plagued the Blue Devil team in the past few years has been significant injuries, and one Duke player has fallen under the curse already.

Senior midfielder Kat Thomas sprained her foot during the first week of preseason and has decided to have surgery, though a timeline and recovery date has not been determined yet. Kimel said the pictures from the MRI were ambiguous, so it’s difficult to say if Thomas will come back this season, and if so, when.

Despite the loss of a crucial element of the Blue Devil offense and a generally younger team, Duke remains hopeful and optimistic about the upcoming season.

“We are returning players who will work hard to come on to the field, as well as talented freshmen to help us and play some for us,” Kimel said. “While we return our defense this year, we’re continuing to improve, and we’re hoping to develop more things that are outside of the box given that they are a year older now.”