After a one-year hiatus from the final four, No. 6 Duke could have used an injection of life into a program that had made the previous four national semifinals.
And few things can create more excitement than luring a corps of elite freshmen to campus.
With a solid freshman class featuring starters Tara Jennings, Megan Deakins, Stefanie Fee and Rhian Jones, the Blue Devils are buzzing at the prospects of this year's rookies.
Along with the slew of All-American and all-state honors accompanying this quartet of first-year starters are experiences that have prepared them in ways few can match.
Jennings and Jones, two midfielders, arrived in Durham this fall fresh off starting for the U.S. U-19 National Team in competition in Santiago, Chile, this past March. Their matches against the Chilean U-19 and U-21 clubs, along with other tours of duty, have already paid dividends, accelerating the learning curve of the newcomers.
"Tactically, we learned things like pressing the ball and outletting that transfer to the college game that you don't necessarily get in high school," said Jones, who has already put her passing skills on display with an assist in a win over Delaware.
Despite the obvious advantages of playing with the national program, perhaps the most useful experience for the freshmen came closer to home, as Jennings, Jones and Deakins faced off against each other with their Pennsylvania high schools.
Through these matches, and also through playing together in the Futures field hockey program, the three future Blue Devils developed an understanding which has proved priceless.
"Whenever you've played with someone before, you know their habits on the field," Jones said. "Like, I know Megan's strength is speed, so I can lay a ball off to the corner and I know she'll get it."
And the outsiders also benefit from the trio's closeness.
"It's been really easy to click with them," said Fee, a starting defender, of the Pennsylvania products.
Even prospects with the highest potential and richest pedigrees sometimes fail to produce, but head coach Beth Bozman is thrilled with the recruits' progress thus far.
The continued development of their chemistry could have Duke adding more years to their final four banner at Williams Field.
"We knew they were a special class when they came in, and they have really lived up to our expectations," Bozman said.
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