Duke’s season came to an abrupt end Nov. 13 at the hands of Old Dominion in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Blue Devils finished the year with a 14-8 record, 2-3 in the ACC earning the No. 6 spot in the final national rankings. Under first-year head coach Pam Bustin, Duke made it to the ACC championship game for the first time since 2003 and won its first NCAA Tournament game since 2008.
“I am really pleased and proud of the season that we had this year,” Bustin said. “If I am really going to focus on the difference makers for us, I think it would be the seniors and how they handled their final year.”
The Blue Devils’ six seniors were essential to the team’s success, featuring second team All-Americans Stefanie Fee and Rhian Jones along with third teamer Samantha Nelson. From her arrival on campus, Bustin made sure they were all on the same page.
“I spent time with them getting to know what was important to them,” Bustin said. “Then, I had to get them to clearly understand what my vision was for this program, and fortunately the two met.”
Duke began its season in late August, ranked No. 15 in the country after finishing with an 8-11 record in 2010. The Blue Devils quickly moved to 5-1, vaulting to the No. 6 spot in the national rankings. But Duke dropped its next three games to some of the top programs in the nation, each by a margin of just one goal. Following a devastating 2-1 home loss to then-No. 7 Penn State, the Blue Devils fell the next day to then-No. 2 Old Dominion in a double-overtime thriller. In another double overtime game the next weekend, then-No. 2 North Carolina defeated Duke 1-0.
“The Penn State game was crucial,” Bustin said. “I think we really could have won and should have won, but we didn’t. We had to battle back, and the way that we came and played against the [Monarchs] the next day was impressive.”
Bustin saw positives even in the gut-wrenching midseason losses, and her team bounced back after the loss to the Tar Heels and won six of its last eight regular season games, including an upset victory in a rematch against then-No. 1 Old Dominion.
In the ACC tournament, Duke defeated Virginia and then stunned two-time defending national champion Maryland in a dramatic 2-1 victory to advance to the conference championship. In a rematch with North Carolina, the Blue Devils got behind early and could never regain the lead, falling 2-1.
Following their NCAA Tournament first round 5-0 drubbing of Stanford, the Blue Devils prepared to face-off with the Monarchs for the third time. Tied at one with just eight minutes left to play, Old Dominion took advantage of a penalty corner to go up by a goal. The Monarchs controlled possession for the rest of the game, and Duke saw its championship hopes vanish in the crushing 2-1 defeat.
“After Old Dominion it was rough because we had beaten them before,” Bustin said. “I think more than anything we wanted to go to the NCAA championships, but at the end of that day it was more like, ‘Well, we don’t go to practice on Monday.’ That was the saddest realization of all.”
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.