It’s crunch time for the Blue Devils.
Duke (5-8) is looking to make a final push toward the NCAA tournament as it begins its final weekend on the road. The Blue Devils, however, will have to battle against two tough opponents. They face the James Madison Dukes (8-4) in Harrisonburg, Va. before playing No. 8 Old Dominion (10-3) for a second time in Norfolk.
The Dukes are coming off of a weekend in which they beat Hofstra and Radford in two consecutive shutouts, with scores of 1-0 and 4-0, respectively. James Madison has only given up more than two goals once this season, when it gave up three in an overtime loss to Northeastern. The cornerstone of the Dukes’ strong defense is freshman goalie Lena Wimmert, who has started all 12 of their contests so far this season and boasts a miniscule 1.11 goals-allowed average.
“James Madison is having a great season this year, and I think being on the road is going to be a great challenge for us,” head coach Pam Bustin said. “James Madison gives us a different challenge and a different look, so it’s exactly what we need as we head towards the end of the season.”
Duke will next look for revenge against Old Dominion. The 3-1 loss earlier in the season was characterized by a slow first half, during which Old Dominion’s Celine Marquet and Rosario Villagra gave the Lady Monarchs a 2-0 lead.
Although Old Dominion never relinquished its lead, Duke bounced back in the second half, scoring a goal of its own and keeping pace with the Lady Monarchs.
“We played them pretty well last game, especially in the second half, so I would hope that we could keep that confidence in playing against Old Dominion high,” Bustin said.
The Blue Devils will have to look out for Old Dominion redshirt junior Christy Longacre and freshman Sarah Breen, who were recently named CAA Player and Rookie of the Week, respectively. Breen, who leads the Lady Monarchs with 10 goals, has now been named Rookie of the Week three times and Player of the Week once.
Following this roadtrip, the Blue Devils play California and Virginia in Durham before going to the ACC tournament in Chapel Hill. Each game is extremely crucial for Duke, which must end the season with a .500 record in order to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. This weekend will be especially meaningful, as the Blue Devils have dropped out of the national rankings for the first time.
“When you’re doing well the rankings are nice to look at, but you tend not to look at them when you’re not where you need to be,” Bustin said.
Bustin, however, knows her team can get there.
“We’ve begun the push [for the postseason], and as long as the girls can keep their minds positive and keep the big picture in mind while still taking care of the little things each day, then I’m really excited,” she said. “How we handle those difficulties is going to be an individual responsibility but also a collective effort on our part. If we handle it the right way, it could be a lot of fun.”