Duke uses fall season to prep for spring run

The 2006-2007 Blue Devils have their eyes on the prize.

Even though it will have to wait until May, the Duke team is already focused on claiming the first NCAA title in the program's history.

"We have three strong returning classes who have been to the final four and felt the heartbreak of losing, so we kind of have a bitter taste in our mouth," senior captain Rachel Sanford said. "We know what we need to do to get there."

After the disappointment of last year's final four overtime loss to eventual champion Northwestern and the stress of a spring season clouded by the men's lacrosse controversy, the Blue Devils are excited to begin anew. They are using their fall season to integrate in a new coach and several new players as well as to prepare for the 2007 spring season.

That process starts when Duke takes the field against North Carolina tonight in its first fall scrimmage. Last season, the Blue Devils downed the Tar Heels, 10-8.

"It was a really long year since we started in September and ended in May, especially with all the issues with the men's team" head coach Kerstin Kimel said. "All of us were just exhausted mentally and physically. The good thing was it took me less time than usual to recuperate and really be excited about this year."

With the loss of assistant coach Christine Halfpenny to the head coaching job at William & Mary during the offseason, the team underwent some staff changes.

The Blue Devils took on assistant coach Alex Kahoe, who has coached at Maryland, Pennsylvania and Delaware. In her college career at Maryland, Kahoe, a goalie, was a three-time All-American and led the Terrapins to five straight NCAA titles between 1996 and 2000. She was the NCAA Goalie of the Year twice and compiled a 100-5 record in her tenure with the team.

"She's really big on stick work," Sanford said. "We've been doing much more than we did before. It's already making a big difference in our play."

This season, the Blue Devils will have to replace three-time All-American attacker Katie Chrest, key defender Laura Anderson and 2005 IWLCA/U.S. Lacrosse Goalie of the Year Megan Huether. Still, Kimel feels confident in her team's ability to rebound from these personnel losses.

"We return all the other kids around Chrest who were responsible for 80 percent of our scoring," Kimel said. "Our goal this year, especially with the senior class we have, since they've all played and contributed, is that we have a special opportunity to go after the ACC and NCAA championships. Those are realistic goals."

In goal, the Blue Devils could split time between two keepers who both saw limited minutes in 2006-junior Regan Bosch and sophomore Kim Imbesi.

"We either have a tough decision to make this spring, or they can both play," Kimel said. "In 1999-2000, we had two very different goalies, and we split time with them, since one goalie would be better suited for one team than the other."

Duke welcomes the return of not only nine starters but also of junior Jessica Adam, who redshirted last season. The midfielder played in all 21 games for the Blue Devils in 2005, tallying 17 goals and eight assists while going 6-for-6 on free position shots.

"Jess is a great midfielder," senior captain Michelle Menser said. "She's really athletic, she can score goals, she can play defense. She's just an all-around great player, so it will be really valuable to have her back and add to the depth of our team."

The freshman class also brings eight players to the team, including attacker Lindsay Gilbride, a U.S. Lacrosse High School All-American in 2005 and 2006.

"We add some really talented kids," Kimel said. "Between the kids who have played and the addition of Lindsay, and Jess coming back from redshirting last year, I don't think scoring goals is going to be an issue for us."

Against UNC, Kimel plans to use the scrimmage to get the new and less experienced players field time against a quality team.

"Since it's a Duke-UNC scrimmage, I think it would be really easy for our kids to worry about winning and losing, and we don't need to focus on that," Kimel said. "The biggest and most important things are applying what we've worked on so far and playing with a lot of heart and hustle."


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