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Duke begins quest for national championship

At the far end of Williams Field, a banner reads "Duke Field Hockey NCAA Final Four-2003, 2004, 2005, 2006."

The No. 12 Blue Devils' quest for a fifth straight final four appearance begins this weekend when they clash with No. 7 James Madison (18-3) Saturday at 2 p.m. in Chapel Hill in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Duke (11-8) received one of the eight at-large bids available in the tournament field.

Although there was some uncertainty before the tournament selection committee released the bracket, the Blue Devils believe they belong in the tournament.

"We felt like we earned our spot," head coach Beth Bozman said. "We had some very important wins and absolutely deserve to be here."

Duke knows its first-round opponent very well.

In last year's opening round, James Madison pushed the Blue Devils to overtime at Williams Field before Duke escaped with a 3-2 victory. The Dukes, however, are fresh off a Nov. 4 victory over then-No. 10 Old Dominion that gave them their second straight Colonial Athletic Association crown.

The Blue Devils hope that last year's experience will help prepare them for Saturday.

"We know full well what James Madison is capable of," junior Marian Dickinson said. "They're not at all a pushover."

If Duke gets past the first round, it would play the winner of Stanford and top-seeded North Carolina. With a 20-0 record and an ACC championship, the Tar Heels were an easy choice for the No. 1 overall seed.

While the Blue Devils are thoroughly focused on James Madison, they would like nothing more than to get another shot at North Carolina and end their rival's perfect season.

"We keep talking about it because [the Tar Heels] have such a good team this year," sophomore Amie Survilla said. "Coming in and beating them would be an amazing experience. It would be like the movie 'Miracle.'"

Duke is looking to make a final four run with one of its youngest squads in recent memory. Ten of the team's 18 players are underclassmen.

Despite the youth on this year's team, its goals have still not changed. The Blue Devils are confident in their ability to do damage in the tournament.

"In Duke's program, expectations are always high," Bozman said. "If the expectations weren't high, we wouldn't be in the tournament right now."

The Blue Devils enter the weekend coming off a heartbreaking loss to Wake Forest in the ACC tournament.

Duke, however, has dealt with plenty of tough losses throughout this season. The squad knows the importance of only focusing on the present.

"Every team's in the same situation," Dickinson said. "There's no point in saving anything more. It's do or die."

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