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Duke field hockey still seeking first ACC win

Duke is still looking for its first ACC win of the season, and this weekend will be its final chance to do so.

The No. 22 Blue Devils (7-9, 0-4 in the ACC) will take on No. 7 Virginia (14-3, 3-1) Saturday at Jack Katz Stadium. This is the second straight week Duke’s NCAA ranking has improved, after going from unranked to No. 24 last week.

“It’s an exciting week for us because it’s our final home match in the regular season, it’s senior day, it’s an ACC game and we’re very hungry for a win,” head coach Pam Bustin said. “Virginia is a very talented team with some exceptionally talented players, so for us it’s about organizing our team structure to put the strength in our…game plan to take [them] on.”

Virginia boasts two U.S. Olympians, forward Paige Selenski and midfielder Michelle Vittese, both redshirt seniors. Both Selenski and Vittese took the 2011 season off to train with the Olympic squad. In London, Selenski scored the United States’ only goal in its elimination game. She was one of only five goal scorers for the Americans throughout their six Olympic matches. She leads the Cavaliers with 23 goals, 11 assists and 95 shots, in addition to being fourth in the NCAA in goals per game and third in points per game.

Virginia’s dominant offense is powered by Selenski, junior defender Elly Buckley and sophomore forward Rachel Sumfest, who have scored 23, 15 and 13 goals, respectively. As a team, the Cavaliers have outscored their opponents by an average margin of almost three goals per game.

“We’ve really been working on how we read each other and how we’re hopefully going to control the tempo of the game,” Bustin said. “It’s a very high level of hockey, so that’s just exciting in itself.”

The Blue Devils’ leading scorer, junior forward Emmie Le Marchand, has 11 goals on the season, with the next highest being redshirt junior Devon Gagliardi with six and senior Mary Neilson with five. Their numbers are smaller than Virgina’s powerhouse trio of Selenski, Buckley, and Sumfest, but recently Duke has been stepping it up when it mattered. Last week junior defender Paula Heimbach scored her first career goal in overtime to propel the Blue Devils to victory past California.

Duke will need to harness the momentum from last week’s thrilling win in order to have a chance of beating the Cavaliers. In addition to remaining winless in the ACC, Duke has yet to defeat a higher-ranked opponent.

“Whenever we play a team in the ACC, it’s a great rivalry,” Bustin said. “We’re really excited. The coaching staff is really confident about where we are right now, so it’s really a matter the team just walking into it and staying focused for the full 70 minutes.”

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