Last year, the Blue Devils’ national championship hopes vanished when Old Dominion handed them a crushing loss in the quarterfinal round of the NCAA tournament. Although Duke was seeded No. 6 and the Lady Monarchs were No. 2, it was a difficult defeat because the Blue Devils had beaten them earlier in the season.
This season, the Duke squad returns hungrier than ever to earn its first national title.
“We want to build on our successes,” Blue Devil head coach Pam Bustin said. “Each time we step on the field we want to be better than we were the day before. If we can just stay focused on that the results will come, and our goals will be met.”
Last season, Duke reached the ACC championship game for the first time since 2003 and won an NCAA tournament game for the first time since 2008. And that was in Bustin’s first year at the helm after taking the reins from previous coach Beth Bozman.
The Blue Devils possess key ingredients to build on last year’s successes, namely a deep roster and determination.
“When we’re all together we have good depth,” Bustin said. “Toward the end of the season that’s going to be a huge benefit for us—that we have the numbers and the experience to continue to make some inner changes and keep everybody fresh. These kids have many specific skills that can go from the top of the team to the bottom of the team. We have determined kids.”
Despite the graduation of six seniors last year, the Blue Devils now have a talented crop of five freshmen. Three members of the freshmen class—Amanda Kim, Hannah Barreca and Aileen Johnson—were named All-Americans in high school. Fellow classmate Kendra Perrin was honored as the 2011 U-18 British Columbia Female Field Hockey Player of the Year.
Duke returns four out of its five leading scorers from last season—junior Emmie Le Marchand, junior Devon Gagliardi, sophomore Jessica Buttinger and senior Mary Nielson. Le Marchand, who registered a team-high 45 points last season, was selected to the 2012 Preseason All-ACC Team in a vote of the league’s head coaches.
Equally important is the extensive experience gained by veteran players, some of whom competed at the national level over the summer. Among these players are Buttinger, who represented Canada, and sophomore Lauren Blazing, who played for the United States U-21 squad.
“The experiences that our kids are having with their national programs obviously brings their game to another level,” Bustin said. “We support that and look forward to that experience coming back to our team to enhance us and make us a stronger team.”
Duke’s schedule ranks among the most difficult in the country, with 10 regular-season matchups against top-20 competition. The depth and talent of the Blue Devil team, however, eases Bustin’s concerns about a tough schedule.
“My biggest concern is when we could possibly be down six kids for the Junior Pan-American games taking place in September,” Bustin said. “I’m not so concerned about the results or anything. I just want to make sure that our team remains mentally positive and mentally strong to get through that period when we’re not at full-force.”
But as a team that prides itself on depth, the Blue Devils will hope to be a force to be reckoned with down the road.
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