But that all changed with 1:15 left in regulation thanks to senior Emmie Le Marchand. The midfielder received a pass from Jessica Buttinger and put it past North Carolina goalkeeper Sassi Ammer to send Duke to overtime and an eventual shootout victory.
“When you score a goal in any game with one minute to go to tie it up or win, it’s a huge moment and you’re going crazy,” Le Marchand said. “But when it’s North Carolina, and we did it on their home field in front of a huge crowd… it was the most satisfying thing ever to do.”
From her freshman season to last week's victory against the Tar Heels, Le Marchand has been a game changer on the Blue Devils’ offense. The Worcester, England native led the team in both goals and points each of her first three collegiate seasons, and her senior season looks to be no different as her six goals and 17 points have earned her at least a share of the team lead yet again.
But Le Marchand wasn’t originally supposed to come to Durham. The Blue Devils initially targeted one of her high school teammates at The King's School, but she eventually decided to stay in England. Before she cut off contact with Duke, however, the teammate gave the school Le Marchand’s information.
“In the end, [my teammate] said that [Duke] would be a really good fit for you,” Le Marchand said. “She knew I had high academic standards… and I was like 'Yeah, might as well try it.' It just worked out well.”
Le Marchand’s first recruitment visit to Duke during July of her senior year was also her first trip across the Atlantic Ocean. Although she was excited to play collegiate field hockey, Le Marchand was nervous to begin preseason in an unfamiliar country. In addition, following a 2009 season in which Duke went winless in the ACC, the team was growing frustrated with then-head coach Beth Bozman.
“That first season was strange for a whole lot of reasons,” Le Marchand said. “The coach my freshman year left [after the season], and I was that scared international new kid. I was kind of freaking out emotionally.”
The Blue Devils were winless in the ACC again in 2010, leading to Bozman’s resignation. But new head coach Pam Bustin completely turned the program around in 2011, and Duke secured its first NCAA tournament berth in three seasons.
“After sophomore year, I was like that should’ve happened last year,” Le Marchand said. “Pam came in and… it was a pretty big change from how it was before, but she impressed herself and her work ethic on us straight away.”
Bustin’s new system of field hockey allowed Le Marchand to power the Blue Devils’ offense during her sophomore year, as she tallied 19 goals and 45 points on her way to being named a third team All-American. In comparison, the next-highest Blue Devil notched nine goals and 23 points.
Yet Le Marchand credits the team’s success not to her outstanding numbers, but to the leadership of the senior class. After an uncomfortable freshman season, the veterans of the team—specifically fellow midfielders Stefanie Fee and Rhian Jones—not only helped Le Marchand develop as a player, but also helped the Blue Devils push past an 8-11 season and into the postseason.
“The senior class that year was really special,” Le Marchand said. “It was very much their team. They never felt like they had a chance, but when Pam came in they got this opportunity."
History is repeating itself for Le Marchand and her seven fellow seniors, as the Blue Devils are coming off another season in which they went winless in conference play. But this time, instead of crediting Duke’s 0-5 record to a tense relationship between the coach and the squad, Le Marchand cites six of her teammates’ absences while they played in the 2012 Junior Pan-American Games.
“There was a strange back end to the season where the six came back [from the Pan-American Games], and we really had to talk it out as a team because the six were in some ways isolated,” Le Marchand said. “We had to go through and fight for a lot as such a small group whilst they’d been away, so there was… a lot of mixed feelings with them coming back. That just filtered through and stopped us altogether from making an impression, which is a shame.”
But there’s something different about this season, especially palpable after the North Carolina victory. Not only did the Blue Devils defeat the nation's top-ranked team—who just happened to be their Tobacco Road rivals—but they also secured their first ACC win.
“That’s the best hockey we’ve played in a long time, because when you play the best, you have to rise to that level,” Le Marchand said. “I think after my goal at the end, everyone was feeling this huge relief because we really felt like we deserved [to win] after the grit and guts we showed in the game.”
Le Marchand, however, hopes that the North Carolina victory is just the beginning. Now that it’s her senior season, Le Marchand hopes to lead her team back to the postseason, just like the Class of 2012 did for her.
“Once you get to senior year, it’s like a slap in the face…. We have to do it this year,” she said. “We’d love to go undefeated in the ACC, but we know the conference this year is really tough. But we certainly hope we can play with the same sort of intensity… we showed against Carolina, and there’s a confidence now. We want to win everything."
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