With the stakes higher than ever, the Blue Devils hope to avenge a loss that they suffered earlier in the season.
Fourth-seeded Duke will travel to Boston this week for the ACC tournament and will face fifth-seeded Virginia Thursday morning at 11 a.m. The Blue Devils have historically struggled against the Cavaliers, going 1-8 against them since 2007, including back-to-back ACC tournament losses in 2009 and 2010. Duke lost to Virginia 4-3 earlier this season in Charlottesville, Va.
“[Virginia] is a great offensive team,” head coach Pam Bustin said. “But part of that was some of the breakdowns and mistakes that we created. We learned from that and we know some of their tendencies now so hopefully we can match that with some better defensive organization and quicker transitional play.”
In its Oct. 18 meeting with the Cavaliers, Duke (13-5, 3-3 in the ACC) fell behind early as Virginia (15-4, 3-3) forward Elly Buckley scored three early goals. But the Blue Devils fought back and cut the Virginia lead to just one goal late in the game. Duke, however, could not convert on a couple of late opportunities and dropped its second straight ACC game.
With the game lingering in the players’ minds, they will look to down the Cavaliers on a bigger stage. To do so, they will have to overcome the habitual slow starts the team has experienced this season, including last weekend against Maryland when the Blue Devils found themselves down 3-0 at halftime.
Duke has played strong non-conference opponents this year, such as No. 10 Stanford and No. 9 Princeton, in addition to a grueling ACC slate, something that should help them in the tournament.
“Hopefully our schedule throughout the season has prepared us for this,” Bustin said. “That is good preparation for postseason play.”
The offensive attack, spearheaded by senior forward Emmie Le Marchand, will need to get shots on the goal early and often, establishing an early presence on the offensive end. Le Marchand leads the team with 11 goals and 55 shots this season.
Bustin hopes her team can correct the mistakes from the Maryland game, both to improve their play against Virginia and to prepare for a potential matchup against a first-seeded Terrapin team in second round. Maryland has been the country’s top team for more than a month, and has received a bye for the first round of the tournament. The Terrapins also knocked the Blue Devils out of the first round of the ACC tournament last season.
“After Saturday's game, it gave us plenty to look at, review and really just get us back on track and sharpen things up going into the [ACC] tournament,” Bustin said. “As disappointing as the result was on Saturday, we were grateful that it wakes us up and gets us in order.”
Senior defenders Paula Heimbach and Brenna Rescigno will have their hands full with Buckley and the Virginia attack that tore through their lines in the last matchup. Buckley comes into the game leading the ACC in shots and goals per game, while the Cavaliers are 19th in scoring nationally.
Although Duke gave up a season-high five goals to Maryland, the defense has exhibited consistency and shown flashes of dominance, giving up 1.42 goals per game.
Redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Lauren Blazing, who is the anchor of the defense, has been tough to score on this season and only let 21.4 percent of opposing shots in the cage during the regular season.
“Elly Buckley was a big threat for [Virginia],” senior forward McKay Ross said. “As long as we can contain her and put someone on her and keep attacking the goal... we can score against them with no problem.”
Bustin is looking to her six seniors and two graduate students to lead the team through the tournament, and in the long run, to the NCAA tournament.
“These guys have been the ones preparing to create exactly where we are now,” Bustin said. “For three years, they have made the changes and done the things necessary to put this program where we are today. I want them to enjoy it and finish it.”
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