Most outcomes of the 2012 season would have fallen short of expectations after Duke reached the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament in 2011. But no one expected that the Blue Devils would finish below .500 and thus ineligible for postseason play.
“I think everyone on the team thinks we didn’t live up to our expectations,” junior defender Paula Heimbach said.
Duke entered the ACC tournament with a 7-10 record, and needed to win the tournament to make it back to .500. The Blue Devils’ season came to an abrupt end Nov. 1, however, when they fell in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament to Maryland, the eventual ACC runner up. Duke finished 0-5 in the ACC.
“We were lucky to experience the season that we had a year ago, but I think that gave a false sense of simplicity,” head coach Pam Bustin said. “In reality, it’s not [simple]—it’s a lot of work and a lot of focus… and I think this group has definitely realized that. They’re committed to making those changes as we move forward.”
Duke began the season ranked No. 5 nationally and saw its ranking steadily decline after going 3-6 to open the season. It was ranked No. 19 by the time it beat its first higher-ranked opponent of the season, No. 15 Michigan State.
The Michigan State game was huge for the Blue Devils not only because of their victory, but also because it was the last game Duke was forced to play while missing six players who were playing at the Junior Pan-American Games in Mexico. Freshmen Aileen Johnson and Hannah Barreca, and sophomores Abby Beltrani and Lauren Blazing represented the United States, and freshman Kendra Perrin and sophomore Jessica Buttinger represented Canada in the Games.
The players missed five games, during which Duke had only one substitute on the bench. Although the Blue Devils went 2-3 in the span while they were gone, the absence of the key players had an impact on the rest of the season.
“I think it took a while for us to get connected and by the time we started peaking it was a little too late,” redshirt junior midfielder Devon Gagliardi said. “We’re not going to blame our season on that, but obviously playing together for as much time as you can helps any season.”
To Bustin, the loss affected the team for other reasons.
“I think [the season] would’ve been a bit different if the players were here,” she said. “There were times when we had to focus on things other than hockey and that’s part of the growth of the program—how we handle things outside of field hockey. We were challenged this year… and I think we handled it really well but it was new territory for some of these athletes.”
Duke’s first game with the full roster was against Boston College, throwing the team immediately into ACC play. The team fell in a close 2-1 match to the Eagles.
“We were all incredibly disappointed and upset after the Boston College game,” junior forward Emmie Le Marchand said. “We all expected to set the world on fire.”
The ACC losses piled up for the Blue Devils. Earlier in the season, Duke was crushed 7-3 by North Carolina. Then, a week after the Boston College game, Duke was shutout by Maryland. They later closed out the season with a 3-1 loss to Virginia.
The Blue Devils’ position at the bottom of the ACC cost them in the tournament with a low seeding.
“There were number of little things [about this season],” said Heimbach. “We could’ve handled [our mentality and attitude] a little better. ”
Bustin, too, noticed that her team sometimes got complacent despite their inconsistencies.
“I think we were missing emphasis on the importance of owning it every day of taking care of business every single day,” she said. “It’s the commitment that you make to the program.”
However, there were many bright spots throughout the season. Duke scored 11 goals against Kent State, the second most goals scored by an ACC team in a game this season. Senior defender Abby Hassinger was named to the ACC All-Tournament team. In addition, Heimbach and Le Marchand were named to the All-ACC Team.
“It’s an honor and it’s quite a surprise this year because I didn’t think it necessarily was my best year,” Le Marchand said. “It’s been all about the team this year and all about the forward line. It was me who was named but it could’ve been either [Gagliardi or Buttinger].”
Le Marchand and Heimbach lead the seven seniors who return to the team next year. With strong leadership and many learning experiences from the 2012 season, Bustin is ready to get started on 2013 already.
“Every single person coming back is going to have a significant role in the success of the 2013 team,” Bustin said. “We’re a bit different than some other programs, because each person’s energy, attitude and preparation has an impact on this team. That’s something were really going to have to embrace and take responsibility for as we move into the spring training.”
Heimback echoed that sentiment.
“I already can’t wait,” she said.