While their classmates were completing problem sets and writing papers in Durham, six Blue Devils were playing top-flight international competition in field hockey.
At the Junior Pan-American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, freshmen Hannah Barreca and Aileen Johnson and sophomores Lauren Blazing and Abby Beltrani suited up for the United States, while freshman Kendra Perrin and sophomore Jessica Buttinger represented Canada.
Finishing second and third, respectively, Canada and the United States both qualified for the Junior World Cup, alongside champion Argentina. The two teams faced challenges on the field en route to their top-three finishes. Canada tackled early setbacks in pool play, tying Uruguay 2-2 Sept. 11 and losing to Argentina 6-0 Sept. 14. To advance to the next round of the tournament, Canada not only had to win its next game against Mexico, but also had the added condition of scoring at least five goals.
“That was a different challenge than just winning a game, but we managed to pull it together,” Perrin said. “That felt good.”
After falling to Chile 2-1 Sept. 15 in pool play, the United States went head-to-head with them again on Sept. 22 in the final game of the tournament, seeking the final qualifying slot for the Junior World Cup. With a 2-1 win over Chile, the United States made the cut.
“We qualified and did what we went there to do,” Blazing said. “We went in obviously hoping for a top three finish. Beating Chile in the final after we lost to them in pool play was one of the bigger stories of the tournament.”
The players also faced challenges off the field. The food in Guadalajara did not sit well in their stomachs, giving several of the players food poisoning. Additionally, the altitude of 5,200 feet—higher than the players are used to—was difficult to adjust to.
“It was out of our control,” Perrin said. “We just had to focus in and realize what we could control.”
In 13 days, the United States and Canada played seven and six games, respectively. Beltrani and Johnson scored goals in the United State’s 8-1 rout against Trinidad and Tobago Sept. 14. Three days later, Beltrani added a goal against Jamaica, who the United States shut out 8-0. Blazing was the starting goalkeeper in several of the games and was credited with the victory over Chile in the championship. For Canada, Buttinger tallied two goals, including the game-winning goal against Chile in the semifinal round of the tournament.
Playing against top competition on the international stage elevated the participating Blue Devils’ games, making the players realize that they need to practice at a faster pace all the time. This realization led to many of the girls leaving the trip with a desire to train even harder in preparation for the Junior World Cup.
“That experience really came out in the Argentina and Chile games when we saw the pace and the skill that the players are playing with,” Blazing said. When the players weren’t busy with practices, games and team meetings, they explored the city, stayed on top of their schoolwork and hung out with their competitors and the men’s teams.
“It was awesome,” Blazing said. “We got to see a little bit of Guadalajara and meet people from all around the world.”
The No. 19 Duke field hockey team had to play five games without a full roster, going 2-3 in these contests. At the end of a grueling stretch of games, the Blue Devils defeated No. 15 Michigan State in their first win against a higher-ranked opponent this season. Although Duke proved that it can adjust to playing with a smaller roster, there is no question that the return of the six players who competed internationally will give the team a boost.
“They’re really excited to be back in the States and back with their Duke field hockey family,” Blue Devil head coach Pam Bustin said. “They’re really proud of what the team did in their absence, and now there’s an added sense of strength and an added sense of energy having everyone back together as we go into the second part of the season.”