Looking back on last season, head coach Gail Goestenkors identified the loss to Maryland-in the ACC Tournament semifinals-as one of the most defining moments of the year for her team.
"We were extremely upset, frustrated, disappointed," Goestenkors said. "Even though I was very upset with the loss, the next time I met with the team I said, 'We're going to win a national championship.' Because I knew, having two weeks with a team that was talented and upset with its performance, I knew we would get more out of that two weeks probably than we ever had before."
After losing the NCAA Championship 78-75 in overtime a month later, the Blue Devils will come together yet again in the aftermath a disappointing loss to conference-rival Maryland. This time, they will have an entire season to do it.
Goestenkors' goal to win the program's first national title has not changed. But, as the team began practice Friday, her strategy on how to get there has.
Some changes on the court this year will be more subtle. Goestenkors said she learned a great deal from her experience this summer as an assistant coach on the Senior Women's National Team-from scouting opponents to finding new offensive sets.
"The other countries tend to run more screens on the ball than we do here in the United States," Goestenkors said. "They run dribble handoffs and there's much more movement off the ball. Everybody's a threat. We saw it in our game with Russia that we lost. And we saw it really with the men's team as well when they lost to Greece."
Although Duke has been a good motion team, Goestenkors said, adapting its offense to a more European style of play will favor the Blue Devils' solid guard play. In particular, Goestenkors said senior Lindsey Harding and redshirt freshman Brittany Mitch would thrive in this offense.
Yet some changes on the court will be more obvious than just running more on-the-ball screens. Duke needs to find players who can step up and fill the void left by last year's National Player of the Year candidate Monique Currie and fellow captain Mistie Williams, who both finished their eligibility in 2006.
Last season, Currie and Williams led the team in scoring, averaging 16.4 and 11.2 points per game, respectively, and were among the top three in rebounding. Perhaps more importantly, however, is that they both were vocal leaders on and off the court and were the heart of Blue Devils.
"They were both mentally and physically tough and would get in any of their teammates' faces," Goestenkors said. "They were very demanding of their teammates, but they could be because they backed it up with their own play and their own effort."
Six-foot-7 senior Alison Bales, who played the best basketball of her career at the end of last season, aims to further improve her solid play as the rest of the team will look to her, along with Harding, for leadership.
"I think more than anything it was a mindset," Goestenkors said of Bales' development last season. "It was as much mental as it was physical for her-knowing that we needed her, knowing that she had to be aggressive."
Duke will need Bales to play aggressively now more than ever with the loss of Williams, who was often the primary low-post option last season.
Sophomore Abby Waner will also be crucial to Duke's development. Goestenkors said she could emerge as a natural leader of this team because of her strong play and even stronger work ethic.
With only 11 players on the roster, Goestenkors will be able to find more time for all of her players in the upcoming season-as opposed to last year, when she struggled to find enough minutes for several players.
Despite the changes, however, one thing certainly has remained the same. This team is hungry for another championship run.
"We all have a bitter taste in our mouths because of the way that game ended," Goestenkors said of last season's loss in the National Championship. "I, as a coach, and I believe my players, too, have used it as a source of motivation. So, we should be ready to play."
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.