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Defense refocused after sub-par outing

When No. 2 Duke (11-3) steps on the field at noon Saturday for a show down with Loyola (3-7), the team will take in a sight it hasn’t seen in a month—a home crowd.

The Blue Devils will finally return to friendly Koskinen Stadium after six straight road games, but their play this year indicates that they might be better off staying on the road.

So far this season, Duke has collected its biggest wins on the road, defeating then-No. 3 Georgetown, No. 2 Virginia and No. 7 Maryland in their own backyards. The Blue Devils, however, have yet to replicate this success at home, losing a pair of close games to then-No. 1 Princeton and No. 8 North Carolina.

While Loyola’s inferior record suggests that Duke should finally break through with a significant home victory, the Greyhounds have been competitive in every game they’ve played this season. Moreover, Loyola is ranked No. 1 in strength of schedule according to

“I think it’s the kind of year in women’s lacrosse where everybody’s kind of beating everybody,” Duke head coach Kerstin Kimel said.

One area of concern for the Blue Devils is their defense, which had a sub-par showing in Sunday’s 16-11 loss at top-ranked Northwestern. Augmenting Duke’s defensive woes was an ankle injury suffered by stand-out goalie Meghan Huether, who was forced out of the Northwestern game for a six-minute stretch that saw three Wildcat goals.

Fifth-year senior Caline McHenry, Duke’s best defensive midfielder, is also not at full strength, although Kimel expects her to be ready to play Saturday.

“Defensively, we had a really tough game against Northwestern,” Kimel said. “I think getting our unit back, coming out of the gate with good presence and playing good strong fundamental defense is huge.”

The defensive unit will be tested by a Greyhound attack centered around captain Rachel Shuck, a second team All-American last season who holds Loyola’s career assists record. Despite scoring only 10 goals, she has already recorded 23 assists, which represents nearly two-thirds of the team’s total assist output. In addition, Shuck led all players with one goal and three assists in the Greyhounds’ 10-8 win over the Blue Devils last season.

“Rachel is a strong leader for us,” Loyola head coach Kerri O’Day said. “She’s our quarterback on our attacking end.”

In the net, Loyola has taken the unorthodox approach of splitting time between two goalies, with Kim Lawton starting the first half and Cindy Nicolaus playing the second. Of the two, Lawton holds the statistical advantage with a higher save percentage and the lower goals against average.

“Our philosophy has always been until you beat the other one out, you play for 30 minutes,” O’Day said.

Loyola’s tag-team of goalies will be hard-pressed to stop Duke’s offensive duo of junior Katie Chrest and sophomore Kristen Waagbo, who have tallied a combined 92 points this season. Although the Blue Devils are certainly capable of piling it on again this weekend, Kimel has tried to refocus the offense on controlling the ball and taking the pressure off of its hobbled defense.

“I feel pretty confident that we’re coming out of this weekend with a good idea of what we have to work on at this point to get to where we want to be in May,” Kimel said.


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