After finishing last weekend with a 23-0 shutout against Presbyterian at home, the No. 7 Blue Devils (2-0, 1-0 in the ACC) are looking to carry their momentum into the tougher matchups against Richmond and William & Mary this weekend.
“Our team is young this year, and so given that we’re young we tried to set our schedule up so that each week we kind of play more competitive teams,” head coach Kerstin Kimel said. “Last weekend we were one level, this weekend I think both teams that we’re playing are really, really solid…. We wanted to have that gradual ease into the more challenging part of our schedule.”
Although Kimel stressed the importance of experienced players, she said the few seniors on the Duke have been stepping up to help the newer members. Sophomore Kerrin Maurer has made a point of assisting Kelci Smesko, a freshman starter who currently plays the offensive position that Maurer excelled in as a freshman, while team captain Taylor Virden has been leading by example on the field.
Both Maurer and Virden agreed that leadership during games will be key in helping the young team through upcoming and more difficult games.
“I can see a lot of myself last year in [Smesko],” Maurer said. “She’s young and college is a lot different than high school. I’ve tried to lend a hand in helping her get more on the level on our game. Walking the freshmen through and answering any questions they have is what I think is going to help our offense the most.”
New offensive strategies are something the Blue Devils have been focusing on, especially with the return of Kristen Waagbo, a new assistant coach and former member of the team. Waagbo has brought a new sense of innovation and pace to the team’s offensive game.
“We have a lot of new plays and new motions that [Waagbo’s] been putting in,” Maurer said. “In practice it’s definitely different and more up-beat and stuff. It’s definitely helped us to improve more on the field. I definitely think she has given me a better sense of how to play my position… so it’s definitely helped me to become a better player.”
Waagbo’s strategies are focused on helping the team generate more looks and offensive opportunities, something that will be key in this weekend’s games. Maurer and Waagbo have also been working together to ensure that Maurer is able to be more of a threat with the ball.
Now that the Blue Devils have had two games to put these plans into practice, they have more of a sense of what works best for them and can help them as they head into tougher matchups.
“Last weekend we made a promise to the team and to ourselves that we are going to play as the team that we see ourselves being this year regardless of who the opponent is,” Virden said. “Last weekend one of our biggest focuses was on us getting better against the competition… working through things, seeing what works, what doesn’t work, whereas this weekend we will take what happened last weekend and implement the things that… were working for us and let go of the things that maybe weren’t there.”
Although the last few times Duke has played Richmond and William & Mary things have worked out in their favor, the fact remains that both teams are strong competitors and will capitalize on any mistakes—something that may not have been as much of a problem in the previous weekend’s games. In addition, both opponents have a large number of veterans on their squads and a combination of talent and experience that makes them, especially Richmond, more formidable challenges than they have been in past years.
Duke will have to stay alert and sharp on both ends of the ball to ensure a win against the Spiders.
“They’ve been young for a couple of years and now those kids are all older,” Kimel said. “They’re just strong. They’ve got seniors kind of all over the field…. I feel like we’ve played the same group of kids for the past three years. They played us tough, they’re athletic and they handle the ball really well. I expect them to be a lot more organized this year.”
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