This season, it’s all about balance.
“We won’t be one-dimensional like we’ve been in the past,” Duke head coach John Kerr said.
In 2011, Duke’s offense was explosive. The Blue Devils outscored their opponents 44-30, taking nearly 17 shots a game. Their offense was powered by midfielder Andrew Wenger, the 2011 MAC Hermann Trophy winner who tied Duke’s record for single-season goals with 17. Wenger was drafted first overall by the Montreal Impact in the MLS SuperDraft following his junior season.
The Blue Devils felt Wenger’s absence in 2012, with an offense unable to make up for his production. Scoring only 20 goals in 18 games, Duke was forced to depend heavily on its defense, specifically goaltender James Belshaw. Starting all but two games during his four-year Duke career, Belshaw ranked second in the ACC in saves and shutouts during his senior season. Belshaw was selected by the Chicago Fire with the 49th pick in the 2013 MLS Supplemental Draft.
Kerr has transformed his offense, shifting his players around the field and adding an influx of offensive power with his current freshman class. The improved Blue Devil attack will focus largely on junior Sean Davis, a midfielder who mainly worked with distributing the ball in his first two seasons. Although Davis will still be an anchor in the midfield, Kerr knows his co-captain will become another weapon to the attack.
“Sean Davis has really developed his game,” Kerr said. “We’ve kind of changed his mindset. You’ll see this year, when the time presents itself, he’ll be a really dangerous threat.”
Freshmen Brody Huitema and Seo-In Kim each tallied a goal and an assist in their first contest in Duke blue, and will continue to be go-to guys into the regular season.
After placing fourth with the U18 Canadian National Team at the COTIF U20 tournament in Spain, Huitema joined the Blue Devils on Friday before his team’s final scrimmage against Old Dominion. Despite never having played with his teammates, it didn’t take Huitema long to get acclimated—he notched a goal and an assist in his first collegiate game.
“The guys were really easy to play with,” Huitema said. “They’re a talented group of players and they’re what I’m used to playing with. It’s not too hard of an adjustment.”
From a defensive standpoint, South Carolina-transfer Alex Long, a graduate student, replaces Belshaw in goal. During his redshirt sophomore season, Long started all 19 games between the pipes for the Gamecocks, leading the team to the Conference USA regular season title and the third round of the NCAA tournament. The 6-foot-2 goalkeeper was back in goal in 2012, making 52 saves with five shutouts.
“[Alex] comes in as a very experienced goalkeeper,” Kerr said. “His size, his presence are remarkable. He covers up a lot of the goal by just standing still there, but he can move. He’s had an exceptional preseason… and we feel extremely confident with him back there.”
Also protecting the net is senior defender Sebastien Ibeagha, who was recently named to the MAC Hermann Trophy watch list. The reigning ACC Defensive Player of the Year, Ibeagha was also the Blue Devils’ leading goal scorer in 2012 with five tallies. All of Duke’s starting defenders from last season—senior Rob Dolot and juniors Nat Eggleston and Jack Coleman—will return.
“As a back four we were very solid,” Ibeagha said. “The fact that we have that back now helps… I feel like that makes it very easy for [Alex] because we know our jobs.”
After a long preseason, Duke is prepared to make an impact in the regular season.
“We really addressed our shortcomings at the end of last season,” Kerr said. “This group has emerged and developed and it’s primed and ready to move forward.”