A gambling man probably wouldn’t bet that a top-15 team would miss the chance to compete in the NCAA tournament, but the No. 14 Blue Devils face exactly that possibility as they enter the ACC tournament.
Duke (9-9, 0-5 in the ACC) is set to face third-ranked Virginia (16-2, 3-2) in the first round of the conference tournament today at 3:30 p.m. in Charlottesville, Va., needing a win to maintain the possibiliity of a .500 record, which is required for eligibility for the NCAA tournament.
The disparity between Duke’s ranking and its record stems from the difficulty of the ACC this year. Maryland and North Carolina have been ranked first and second nationally all year long, and the third position has also been occupied by an ACC team—first Wake Forest, then Virginia—for the entire season. No. 6 Wake Forest and No. 9 Boston College give the ACC five teams in the national top ten, and the Blue Devils have played an astounding 11 games out of 18 against ranked opponents. The squad has fought through this challenging slate with an inexperienced roster, with nearly half of the team made up of freshmen.
“We’ve played one of the hardest schedules in the country, and we certainly have been unlucky at times,” head coach Beth Bozman said.
Nevertheless, the Blue Devils face the possibility of missing the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2003. The game also has special importance for the team’s two senior captains, Amie Survilla and Lauren Miller, who were both named to the All-ACC team Wednesday. Survilla and Miller have never been on a team that has won an ACC tournament game. Should the Blue Devils take down Virginia, they will play No. 2 North Carolina (16-1, 4-1) in a semifinal game Thursday.
Duke played its final regular-season game against the Cavaliers Saturday in Charlottesville, losing 2-1 after leading 1-0 at halftime. The coaching staff has implemented some strategy changes for today’s contest, however, including a change in formation that Survilla said will help prevent fatigue.
“We’ve learned from mistakes we made this past weekend, and we’re not backing down,” Miller said. “We’re not going to give them anything.”
The team hopes that the tournament stage and the high stakes will motivate them, even though the Blue Devils will be without one of their leaders, sophomore Tara Jennings, who had surgery Tuesday.
“This is what you signed up to play for,” Miller said. “This is why you decided to play Division I field hockey, to be able to play in the ACC against the best teams in the nation.”
Bozman is confident that the team has made the necessary adjustments to ensure a different result in its second meeting with the Cavaliers, and she thinks her team is fully prepared for the challenge it will face in Charlottesville.
“I think everybody is ready to do everything that’s needed,” Bozman said. “We’ve been faced with lots of obstacles all season, and it has made us mature very quickly. And I don’t think the fact that we’re in a tournament setting is really going to faze us.”
They’ll need to ante up every bit of that hard-earned maturity on Thursday, since even a betting man would have trouble imagining a game with higher stakes.
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