Duke already upset one seeded team on the road in the playoffs. Saturday it will look to add to that total.
The Blue Devils will take on top-seed Maryland Saturday at noon at the Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex in College Park, Md in the NCAA Championship quarterfinals. Duke is coming off a win against Notre Dame last weekend in which it pulled a similar road upset to the one it will hope to come away with against the Terrapins.
Of the final eight teams in the tournament, the Blue Devils are the sole unseeded team. After head coach Kirsten Kimel spoke about playing with a clean slate for the playoffs, it would seem as though Duke has done just that in its first two games. If they hope to have a shot in their rematch with Maryland, the Blue Devils will have to be firing on all cylinders to slow down a potent Terrapin attack that torched them for 19 goals in their regular season meeting.
“We just got beat in transition and that’s Maryland’s game,” Kimel said. “If there’s one thing you can’t do, you can’t let them run over you in transition. I do think we’ve kind of fixed that. We’ve adjusted our ride a little bit. Personnel—we’ve moved some people around. And we’re just better, because it’s May. So we expect to do a better job.”
For the Blue Devils, the key to success in the postseason has been their defense. After stumbling in the final stretch of the regular season, Duke has picked it up in the NCAA tournament, holding a Fighting Irish squad that averages more than 12 goals per game to eight. The Blue Devils also showed out it their opening round contest against Stanford, holding the Cardinal to five goals less than their average.
“Our defense is awesome,” senior Taylor Virden said. “We’re really solid [and] talented. The key to our defense is we get each other. We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and because we know each other so well, we know how to play with each other….It’s not about having two or three awesome defenders and then the rest just filling in. It’s about having a bunch of people on the same page with a lot of chemistry and that’s what we have.”
But Saturday will provide the ultimate test of the Duke defense, as it faces a Maryland offense that has lit teams up all season long. The Terrapins average 14.81 goals per game—good for fourth in the nation—and they displayed this firepower in the first matchup with the Blue Devils when they racked up 19 goals en route to a 19-10 victory.
In that contest, Duke appeared to be clawing its way back in the early moments of the second half before allowing Maryland to score six unanswered goals and put the game out of reach. But the Blue Devils are putting that game behind them in hopes to have a more internal focus heading into the match, something they have emphasised prior to all postseason games.
“Sometimes it’s hard not to think about previous years or previous games, but honestly the focus is on us right now,” Virden said. “Obviously Maryland is a really talented team but we’re really focusing on our talents and what we have to offer.”
But once the game gets underway, Duke will have to shift its attention to the Maryland offense and focus on finding a way to slow down the trio of Kelly McPartland, Taylor Cummings and Brooke Griffin, as all three have accrued at least 54 goals scored this season and provide the Terrapins with a wide array of scoring options.
Leading the way for the Duke defense will be goalkeeper Kelsey Duryea. Through the first two postseason games, she posted 20 saves and allowed only eight goals in each of the contests. The Blue Devils will rely on Duryea and trust the defense that has worked thus far rather than mix things up when they take on the Terrapins.
“Having Kelsey in the net is just even more confidence in the goal,” Virden said. “For a team like Maryland, we’re going to do what we’ve been doing all season. We’re not going to do anything special just because we’re playing Maryland.”
On the offensive side of the ball, Duke has been solid in the playoffs, averaging 11.5 goals per game. Although that is one goal less than their season average, the strong defensive play has balanced the Blue Devil attack and allowed them to become more opportune scorers rather than play from behind. This was not the case in the first matchup against Maryland, which is something Duke feels is an advantage moving forward.
“We’ve evolved a lot since we played them,” Kimel said. “That’s exciting to us. To go back and refresh like okay, let’s see what we did well against Maryland, what we didn’t do so well. And I think that’s better than playing someone we’ve played more recently.”The winner of Saturday’s contest will take on the winner of the Florida-Northwestern game May 23 in Towson, Md.