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Off-the-radar Blue Devils enjoy identity

After advancing to at least the NCAA tournament semifinals four of the last five years, the Blue Devils now find themselves in an unfamiliar position: They're under the radar.

Yet that may change sooner rather than later if No. 9 Duke (4-2) can pick up wins in home games against No. 18 Ohio State Saturday at 1 p.m. and Old Dominion Sunday at 1 p.m.

"We know we can hang with a Wake Forest, we know we can hang with those top teams, and to still be ranked low is fine because now you're not the one with the target on your back-you get to go get them," junior captain Lauren Miller said.

And last Saturday, Duke was in position to challenge one of the teams in its sights. The Blue Devils played even with then-No. 2 Wake Forest-the Demon Deacons have since moved to the top of the rankings. The two squads tied in shots, and Duke eclipsed Wake Forest in penalty corners.

The Demon Deacons, though, came away with the only result that really mattered, beating Duke 4-1 and exposing the Blue Devils' areas for improvement.

Scoring a 4-1 victory over Drexel in the Blue Devils' home opener the next day helped the team bounce back, but it still needs to work on playing consistently and with the same level of effort for a game's entirety, senior captain Laura Suchoski said.

The fact that Duke is one of the top-10 teams in the nation and has yet to reach its full potential is promising for the squad, head coach Beth Bozman said.

"We're not nearly where we want to be," Bozman said. "I think we're definitely a work in progress because we're so young, but I feel we're playing at a much higher level right now than we were midway through the season last year, and that's pretty reassuring for all of us."

The Blue Devils plan on taking each game as if they are playing the top team in the nation, and indeed, they won't need to leave much to the imagination this weekend.

Ohio State (6-2) and Old Dominion (1-4) are just two more in a long line of top-tier opponents Duke will face for the rest of the season.

Old Dominion, though not ranked, played four top-20 teams to start the season and meets No. 5 North Carolina Friday before coming to Williams Field.

The Blue Devils' focus, however, rests more on what they need to do to refine their play than on the name affixed to the opposing team's jerseys.

If Duke keeps improving game after game, as Bozman hopes, it could make it back to an event it knows very well-the NCAA tournament's final four.

"I think we're growing as a team, learning how each other plays and utilizing our best strengths to win each game," Suchoski said. "The way we're moving now, we'll be at Louisville [the final four site] on November 23."

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