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Duke field hockey faces Syracuse in top-10 matchup

Duke goaltender Lauren Blazing has allowed just three goals in her past three games.
Duke goaltender Lauren Blazing has allowed just three goals in her past three games.

Duke will welcome ACC newcomer Syracuse to Durham for the first-ever matchup between the two newly-minted foes.

The No. 7 Blue Devils will look to upset the No. 5 Orange this Friday at 6 p.m. at Jack Katz Stadium and win their sixth straight game. After wins against then No. 1 North Carolina and No. 14 Wake Forest, Duke has no shortage of experience against top-tier ACC opponents.

“These kids come here because of that,” Blue Devil head coach Pam Bustin said. “That is the kind of competition and challenge they want to have a on a weekly basis. This year all of the teams are doing very well.”

Syracuse (10-1, 1-1 in the ACC) has had a strong start to the season, with their only loss coming on the road Sept. 20 at Boston College. Since then, the Orange have won four straight games and hope to match a 2012 season in which the team went 19-3 and made it to the semifinals of the NCAA tournament.

The Blue Devils (10-2, 2-0) will have to stop an explosive Syracuse offense that is averaging 4.0 goals per game. Midfielder Leonie Geyer is a crucial part of why the Orange offense is clicking. The senior has knocked in 10 goals and assisted on 10 more and is tied for second in the conference in points. She has also converted almost 70 percent of her shots into goals.

Geyer will try to slide the ball past redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Lauren Blazing, who has registered a save percentage of 0.821, which ranks second in the nation. Duke looks to continue its defensive dominance, as it has only given up three goals in its last three games.

“Defensively it is really important to be composed and stay in control, even when things start to get chaotic, especially against opponents like Syracuse,” Blazing said. “They have really fast, aggressive and feisty forwards.”

The high level of defensive play has spilled over to the other side of the field, as Duke’s offense has benefited from a stronger back line. During the five-game win streak, the Blue Devils are averaging 3.40 goals per game, compared to 2.75 on the season.

Senior forward Emmie Le Marchand leads the Blue Devils in scoring, and had a goal and two assists in Sunday’s win against Wake Forest.

“You work on shooting everyday in practice, but I think it is awareness of the defense and each other so we can find each other near the post and reading the goalkeeper,” Le Marchand said. “We were a little frustrated on Friday evening against California. Certainly, for me as a forward, when that frustration gets going I’m so hungry to put the ball in the cage.”

Le Marchand and the offense hope to take advantage of a Syracuse defense that has been overshadowed by its mighty offense. The defense is giving up 1.27 goals per game, and Orange goalkeeper Jess Jecko is letting 37 percent of opponents' shots into the cage.

Despite playing Syracuse for the first time in program history, Bustin’s experience in the Big East should help the Blue Devils familiarize themselves with the Orange's style of play.

“Very talented team. Very disciplined team,” Bustin said. “For us it is going to be a matter of playing our hockey and setting our goals and our standards for the game.”

The Duke players are gearing up for another tough game that will be one of four remaining ACC games on a schedule in which the Blue Devils will have to face off against opponents that are currently ranked in the top 10 in the nation.

“For us to keep on focus and keep our attention on task for what we have to do for each game has been great and we just have to keep that going,” Bustin said. “It is exciting. It is what we are here for. It is the kind of hockey we want to play.”

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