With a week of rest under their belts and their No. 3 seed for next weekend's ACC Tournament almost assured, the No. 2 Blue Devils are hoping to use their game against unranked Northwestern (7-9) this afternoon to get ready for postseason play.
Entering today's 3 p.m. matchup at Williams Field, Duke (12-3, 2-2 in the ACC) has won seven out of its last eight games and has outshot its opponents 150-46. Nevertheless, head coach Beth Bozman has stressed the need for her team to play at a faster pace in order to prepare for the stiffer competition it will face in the upcoming postseason tournaments.
"This week we talked about gearing up and playing at a tournament tempo," head coach Beth Bozman said. "Going into these games, [we want to] simulate the ACC and the NCAA tournaments."
Bozman has made the Blue Devils focus on their passing in practice this week in an effort to prepare them for the faster-paced and more talented teams they will soon face.
While the Blue Devils have had little trouble dominating games offensively, they have struggled at times to clear the ball out from their own end of the field.
"We've been working on getting the ball out of the backfield and our passing," midfielder Amy Stopford said. "It's going to definitely become a huge factor in the ACCs-just to be able to pass the ball and move the ball quickly against these other good teams."
Although Duke has one more ACC game remaining against last-place and 20th-ranked Virginia (8-8, 0-4) in Charlottesville, Va. Sunday, the Blue Devils have virtually guaranteed themselves the third seed in the ACC Tournament in College Park, Md., Nov. 3-6. Only a Cavalier win by more than two goals could alter Duke's postseason matchups.
Having not played a game since their Oct. 16 matchup with then-No. 8 Old Dominion, the Blue Devils will also be well rested this week. Despite the time off, Bozman does not expect her team to show any any signs of sluggishness or rust when they finally get back on the field.
"I think it actually was good," Bozman said of the week off. "We were tired, we had a couple nagging injuries, so it's nice to step away and regroup."
In contrast with Duke's recent success, Northwestern has lost three straight games and seven out of its last eight.
The Wildcats are led on offense by freshman attacker Jill Putnam, who leads the team in scoring with 11 goals. Complementing Putnam up front are senior Ellen Schlafly and junior Meghan Small, who each have eight goals and four assists each this year. In the net, Northwestern has struggled to find consistency all season, with the team splitting its starts among three different goalies.
The Wildcats employ the same type of aggressive attack that is the staple of Big Ten teams, and the Blue Devils will enter the matchup well prepared for it having defeated Ohio State and Iowa earlier this season.
"We say in practice that Big Ten teams tend to hit a big ball out of the backfield," Stopford said. "We'll just have to be aggressive and step up and intercept those balls."
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