Almost one month after head coach Beth Bozman abruptly resigned, the Duke field hockey program now begins the process of moving on.
The eight-year coach, who stepped down on Nov. 12 for undisclosed personal reasons, leaves in her wake a shocked team that said it is trying to pick up the pieces after an 8-11 season. They hope to return next fall with a new coach and their first trip to the NCAA Tournament in three years.
“It was very surprising when we found out, and I think a lot of the girls were and are still shocked,” senior Susan Ferger said about the resignation. “They’ve had team meetings to try to form a great team chemistry for when the new coach comes in.”
The Blue Devils expressed disappointment in a season that began with high hopes and ended with the team dropping five of its last seven games. Those five losses including a 2-1 quarterfinal defeat to Virginia in the ACC Tournament.
Perhaps most painful to the team, though, was the way in which it lost throughout the year. Many games came down to one goal, and the Blue Devils often found themselves on the short end of the stick, losing eight of their 10 losses by one goal.
“I feel like we sat down after every loss and tried to figure out why it wasn’t going our way... but ultimately I just don’t think it was our time,” goalie Samantha Nelson said. “But ultimately one of the messages that Beth reiterated throughout the season was that it was so important not to get used to losing.... I just think that it’s incredibly important to always have that optimistic output.”
Ironically, one of the high points for Duke this season came in a loss. After two straight non-conference games the previous weekend, Duke hosted then-No. 1 North Carolina at home Sept. 25. The Blue Devils held the dynamic Tar Heel offense for almost the entire game, holding North Carolina to only six shots. The upset was thwarted, though, in the 60th minute when Caitlin Van Sickle scored on a penalty corner for the game’s only goal.
Ferger, sidelined for the game with a broken thumb, watched as her team fought with the undefeated rivals. Despite her injury, she cited that moment as one of her favorites from the season.
“As much as I disliked being injured and being unable to play, it was very uplifting to see how well the team could play together,” she said. “I think everyone thought that was going to be the turning point of our season. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.”
The next weekend after the North Carolina loss, Duke hosted Boston University in another game that had the potential to be a turning point on the year. Behind a game-winning goal from Caashia Karringten, the Blue Devils won, 1-0.
Seven days later, however, Duke traveled to Maryland and faced the future national champions. Any momentum was slowed down with the 3-1 loss.
As the season soon begin to come to an end, the Blue Devils found themselves with a sub-.500 record, needing two straight wins over then-No. 3 Virginia to make the NCAA Tournament. Duke almost pulled it off in the first game, playing a first half so sublime that junior Tara Jennings called it “absolute serenity” in the halftime huddle. The Blue Devils continued their great play in the second, until the Cavaliers would score with three minutes left to steal a win against Duke.
Just over a week after the season ended on the ACC Tournament field, Bozman resigned. It was unexpected to all who had played under her.
“It was unexpected and one of the hardest parts about dealing with that situation was the shock,” Nelson said. “But ultimately I think that it was a personal decision for her and it was in her best interests.”
Both Nelson and Ferger denied that there were any team-wide problems with the coach. Both also refused to cite Bozman as a major reason why the Blue Devils missed their second straight NCAA Tournament.
“I’d say the coach is an easy target in most instances,” Ferger said. “There’s certainly people who had tensions with the coach but it wasn’t necessarily a team issue.”
In contrast to an at-times abrasive public persona, Bozman behind the scenes was willing to poke fun at herself, the players said. The coach even dressed as a cow at the team’s annual Halloween party this year, while her assistants were adorned as milk maids.
A nationwide search is now underway to see who will replace Bozman. The small nature of the field hockey community ensures that the players will probably know, or even have already played under, whomever the replacement might be.
“It’s really, really exciting to speculate on who we might get,” Nelson said. “I’m just looking for someone with an open mind who wants to demand the best out of us. I think this program is capable of so much.”
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