Not only was Duke awarded with the fourth seed in this year’s NCAA tournament, but they will be playing their first and possible second round games in front of its home crowd.
The fourth-seeded Blue Devils will host New Hampshire Saturday at 11:30 a.m. in Jack Katz Stadium. Immediately following the game, Virginia will play Massachusetts. The winners of the two games will face off Sunday at 2 p.m.
“What a bonus [playing at home is],” head coach Pam Bustin said. “This team has earned it. We fought every week, fought every game. To be home, especially for the seniors, I am pleased that they have a chance to finish off here with a couple of wins.”
No. 5 Duke (14-5) boasts a 3-1 all-time record against the Wildcats, but has not played New Hampshire (15-6) since Sept. 27, 2009, when the Blue Devils won 7-1. The two teams have never met in the postseason.
The Wildcats are coming into the NCAA tournament fresh off a 3-2 win against Albany in the America East tournament championship game after going undefeated in conference play. They have not lost since Oct. 13.
Sophomore forward Meg Flatley, who has knocked in 16 goals this season, is a major reason why the New Hampshire offense is clicking, averaging 2.81 goals scored per game.
“At this point we are not looking at rankings,” redshirt senior midfielder Devon Gagliardi said. “Anything can happen in the tournament. New Hampshire is going to have a lot of heart and come in with a lot of energy. We just need to make sure that we play our game.”
Duke has played through one of the country’s strongest schedules, including non-conference opponents Old Dominion and Princeton, which also made this year’s field of 16 teams.
“This whole season has prepared us to face different styles of hockey and different regions of hockey in away games and home games,” Bustin said. “It has put us in this position where we are going to be able to adapt and play our game against any opponent and be comfortable with it.”
Despite an overtime loss to No. 1 Maryland in the ACC tournament semifinals, the Blue Devils are hoping to carry the momentum from a second-half comeback against the Terrapins into this weekend’s matchup.
Trailing 2-0 at halftime, Duke fought its way back into the game with two late goals by forward Abby Beltrani and defender Hannah Barreca. Just minutes into overtime, Maryland rebounded a shot and slid it past goalkeeper Lauren Blazing for the 3-2 victory.
“I hope we take the momentum of the style of play that we had [in the ACC tournament],” Bustin said. “We played a fast, firm game of hockey.”
The Blue Devils continue to work on getting on the board first, something that did not happen against Maryland.
In recent games—including the team's first round ACC tournament win against Virginia—Duke has scored early, driving them to victory. The team has not lost a game this season when it gets on the scoreboard first.
“[Getting off to a fast start] is what we are focusing on,” senior midfielder Grace Christus said. “Bringing that intensity from the first minute of practice and from the first minute of every game. We are just going to take it one minute at a time, one play at a time.”
Although the Blue Devils gave up 35 shots in their last two games, only four have been converted into goals by opposing teams. Goalkeeper Lauren Blazing averaged 10.5 saves per contest during the ACC tournament and ranks seventh in the nation by stopping 79.5 percent of the shots she has faced.
Defenders Brenna Rescigno, Paula Heimbach and Amanda Kim will anchor the Duke defensive lines and look to lighten some of Blazing’s workload against the strong Wildcat attack.
“It is that ‘get the job done’ style of hockey,” Bustin said. “If we can bring that into the weekend, it will be good.”
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