After junior Katie Chrest accepted the Tewaaraton Trophy, the top individual honor in women’s collegiate lacrosse, at a banquet in Washington D.C. June 2, the first thing she told head coach Kerstin Kimel upon returning to her seat was “We’re going to win it all next year.”
“There was something missing and that was a national championship,” Chrest said. “My teammates weren’t there, and so there was no one to share it with.”
Less than three weeks after their loss to Virginia in the national semifinal, the Blue Devils are already itching to get back on the field, Kimel said. Next year’s team will build on the foundation created by this season’s 17-win squad, which graduates five seniors, four of whom were part of Duke’s eighth-ranked scoring defense.
The Blue Devils will enter next season as a serious national title contender, particularly considering that the attack unit is completely intact. Chrest, who averaged 3.33 goals per contest, will lead the way, but Kimel expects members of the rising sophomore class to become more involved in the offense following productive freshman campaigns.
During last year’s off-season, the coaching staff instituted a new motion offense, and although Kimel does not anticipate any major overhauls, she expects to continue to tweak it.
“I think the biggest problem our attack had sometimes this year was a lack of discipline, and with the players we have, we don’t have to start over with anyone,” Chrest said.
The biggest challenge facing Duke, then, will be rebuilding its defense. After the Blue Devils’ loss to Northwestern April 10 they did not lose another game until the Final Four. Following the defeat to the Wildcats, the eventual national champions, Kimel was particularly critical of the way the defense had performed. The unit made steady improvements throughout the remainder of the season, including a notable performance against Virginia in the ACC Championship game. In that contest, Duke kept the Cavaliers’ three leading scorers from netting a single goal.
Fortunately, Megan Huether, who received the IWLCA Goalie of the Year award, will be back to provide leadership for an inexperienced defense.
To replace the talent lost on the defensive unit, next year’s incoming class includes a number of women with speed and sound defensive skills, Kimel said.
“Any time you get to start with somewhat of a blank slate it’s exciting,” she said. “I think that this defensive unit is going to be really athletic. It will allow us some flexibility to run a number of defenses we haven’t necessarily been able to run in the past.”
For now, Kimel is encouraging all her players to take some time off before beginning their preparation for next season, and Chrest said there is room for improvement before the team can reach its ultimate goal.
“I think a year ago looking ahead to this season I kind of was like, ‘I think we need to win an ACC Championship first before we win it all,’—that happened.” Chrest said. “I just think we climbed so many hurdles and proved so many people wrong about our program, and that we really are here to compete for the championship.”
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