Opposing team’s aren’t having much success sliding the ball past goalkeeper Lauren Blazing. The result—Duke has doubled its win total from last season and has a beat a handful ranked opponents, including then No. 1 North Carolina.
The redshirt sophomore has drastically improved her play in her second season with the pads on and has been a crucial part of the No. 7 Blue Devils’ success this season.
“I think our whole team had been playing well up until [North Carolina] and we continued playing well until after that point,” Blazing said. “The energy on that field during that game was something that we have really tried to bring to every game since then. We were all on the same page, we were really connected.”
Blazing’s career-high 22 saves against the Tar Heels is just one highlight of her breakout season. She has nearly double the number of saves she accumulated last year and has improved her saves percentage from 66.2 percent to 78.6 percent this season. Although Blazing currently has the seventh-best save percentage in the country, she boasted the highest save percentage in the nation earlier this season.
Her 150 career saves place her 11th all-time in Duke history, an impressive feat considering that she missed five games last year during her first season while playing for the U.S. at the Junior Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico last fall.
Blazing said that playing for the U.S. national team helped her develop her game and her mentality, even before she stepped in the goal for her first NCAA game, after redshirting the 2011 season.
“Playing with different people and in different context puts everything in perspective,” Blazing said. “You love the game, so you might as well as go out and play hard every time.”
Blazing did not start out her field hockey career in the goal, however. She first played in seventh grade, but after struggling at other positions, a friend recommended she play goalkeeper because the team did not have one. Since the second day of practice in middle school, Blazing has always been in the goal.
She would go on to be a four-time MVP at Durham Academy and was Conference Player of the Year her senior year. Blazing then decided to play for the hometown team and attend Duke, which is just 3.9 miles from her high school.
As if Blazing did not feel at home enough, her younger sister, Robin, joined the team this season.
“We have always grown up around Duke,” Blazing said. “Having Robin here is another great connection to home. It is really nice to play somewhere you know and represent the city you are from.”
Redshirting during her freshman year, Blazing watched her teammates win 14 games and advance all the way to the NCAA quarterfinals during head coach Pam Bustin’s first season.
Even after going winless in the ACC last year, Blazing knows that the program is headed in the right direction, something that she and the rest of this year’s squad take pride in being a part of.
“I was learning and growing and watching from the sideline during the games,” Blazing said. “Just seeing the attitude that Pam [Bustin] brought to the field and also the seniors that year brought to the field. Everyone is 100 percent invested”
As the last line of defense before an opposing team scores, Blazing knows that she must be playing her best even when the pressure is on. Playing in a conference where all of the teams are ranked in the top 25, she knows that there is little room for error, especially going into the postseason.
Blazing will be playing in her second-ever ACC tournament game Thursday and her first-ever NCAA tournament game later this month. But with her team behind her, Blazing can count on a response from Duke’s offensive attack, which is averaging 2.50 goals per game.
The Blue Devils have found themselves down early in a number of games, but have found ways to get back in it. Last weekend against Boston College, Duke trailed 1-0 until the final 20 seconds of the game when senior Grace Christus scored the tying goal. The Blue Devils would go on to win the match in their fifth overtime game this season.
“You are just like another part of the game,” Blazing said. “If you let one in you can count on your team to score. My mentality is we score first and we score last. If we do that the chances that we are going to win the game are really good.”
This mentality has helped Blazing and Duke win three games in ACC for the first time since 2006 and the team hopes to continue its success this weekend in Boston at the ACC tournament. The fifth-seeded Blue Devils will face fourth-seeded Virginia, a team they lost to earlier in the season.
Blazing will be back in the cage as usual, doing what she does best: keeping the ball out.
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