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Wrenching end fuels Duke's future

The day after Duke failed to advance to the Final Four for the first time since 2003-the Blue Devils lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament, 5-4, to James Madison-two captains approached head coach Beth Bozman and told her that last season was over.

The new season had already begun with the tears of defeat still wet.

"I think it just said that even though we finished where we finished, it just is not acceptable for our program," Bozman said of the scene. "Everyone made a commitment then and there to change things so that they would never have to experience that again."

By "that," Bozman refers to the overtime heartbreaker against James Madison, the first time since 1999 the Blue Devils lost in the first round-and on a questionable goal, at that. While that loss still resonates, Bozman might as well have been talking about the season as a whole, by far Bozman's least successful in her five years at the helm.

Bozman had led the Blue Devils to four straight national semifinals and four straight seasons of at least 16 wins. Last year, Duke finished 11-9 and tied for fourth in the brutally competitive ACC, its worst finish of Bozman's reign.

But this year, Duke returns eight starters, including its six leading scorers from 2007, and Bozman has exuded cautious optimism.

"We're far ahead of where we've been in any other year-the way we're playing and what we've been doing on the field," she said.

And despite a talented seven-player freshman class-which will likely yield at least two starters in Duke's opening match with Louisville Saturday-part of Bozman's expectations must be fueled by her two senior All-Americans.

Marian Dickinson, the midfielder who has led Duke in scoring the last two seasons, returns to Duke after taking a semester off to play with the Canadian National Team in its bid to qualify for the Olympics in Beijing. Dickinson's team came up short, but the stint introduced Dickinson to a higher quality of field hockey-one in which the slightest miscue will result in a turnover, one in which the speed is at a different level.

Laura Suchoski, a three-time All-American in the midfield, doesn't have Dickinson's gaudy scoring numbers, but controls the game from her position. The senior captain-she shares the duties with Dickinson and juniors Lauren Miller and Brooke Patterson-knows the team and program better than almost anyone, and knows the challenges that await.

"One of the great things about this year's team is that we don't settle with mediocrity," Suchoski said. "We demand a lot out of each other both on and off the field. I think that's hard to find in a lot of teams and in the past two weeks, we've set the bar very high for the rest of the season as to what we expect out of each other, and I think that we can meet those expectations if we stay on the track that we are on right now."

It was a track that began last November and, if Duke gets its way, could culminate this November in Louisville-the site of this year's national semifinals, where Duke is due for an appearance.

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