Facing a conference opponent in the preseason, the Blue Devils were shown a few areas they might need to tweak before the regular season begins.
Duke fell 3-1 in a friendly scrimmage against rival North Carolina Sunday at Jack Katz Stadium. The Tar Heels sealed their win in the second half with two unassisted goals, leaving both teams to turn to their regular season slates.
“We want to beat each other always," head coach Pam Bustin said. "There’s always this awesome rivalry that’s long before me. But to come and have such a healthy, highly competitive preseason match is priceless.”
North Carolina’s attack—which led the conference in shots last season— did not give Duke’s defense a chance to rest for the entire game. Outshooting the Blue Devils 17-8, the Tar Heels fired one shot after another upon Duke’s defense. The backfield was commanded by sophomore Kelsey Wagner, who managed six saves during the first full 70-minute appearance of her career.
On the other end of the field, the Blue Devils fought to maintain last year’s strong offensive effort led by since-graduated Emmie Le Marchand. Just three minutes after the Tar Heels took a 1-0 lead, a pair of freshmen playing in their second-ever collegiate competition got Duke on the board. A defensive stop from freshman Ainsley Gill led to an attack that ended with classmate Alexa Mackintire converting a penalty corner for her first goal as a college athlete.
“[Scoring] was really exciting,” Mackintire said. “Obviously it was just a scrimmage, but I think we have a lot of potential for the season, and we’re all really excited for that.”
Play in the second half began with the score tied at one goal apiece. Maintaining its fast-paced attack, North Carolina fired off eight shots before the end of the game. The first to find the back of the net came 19 minutes into the second half, when a corner penalty shot was successfully deflected past an outstretched Wagner, putting the Tar Heels up 2-1.
Another goal four minutes later came after the Blue Devils narrowly missed converting a corner penalty that would have evened the score. A North Carolina forward moved the ball on a solo fast break, increasing the lead with 10 minutes left to play.
“Today’s a great experience and opportunity for us to just grow and learn,” sophomore forward Heather Morris said. “Today we wanted to focus on Duke field hockey. It was good to get the film, and we’ll look at it and see what we did wrong, and I just think it’s a really good opportunity to play someone as strong as North Carolina and build off of that.”
The Tar Heels entered Sunday’s matchup after averaging 20.3 shots per game in the 2013 season. Last year’s Blue Devil defense managed to hold its opponents to just 13.1 shots per game, leaving some work for this year’s backfield. Bustin maintained a constant rotation throughout the scrimmage, allotting playing time for more than two-thirds of the roster and almost every freshman.
A large part of any team’s preseason is devoted to incorporating the freshmen class in time for the regular season. The seven newcomers make up Duke’s largest freshmen class since 2010 and hail from a variety of hometowns, some as far as Vancouver, B.C.
Six of the seven freshmen saw the field against the Tar Heels, with Mackintire as part of the starting lineup.
“We have seven newcomers and they’ve never seen this level of hockey and endured 70 minutes of this kind of pressure,” Bustin said. “It’s a lot of hard work, but they’re willing to put that in, and I’m really pleased with the leadership that emerged today from some of our seniors and upperclassmen.”
The Blue Devils are set to open their regular season Friday, Aug. 29, when they face Michigan State in East Lansing, Mich. Along with hosting the ACC tournament and far-away opponents such as California, Duke will also get a chance at revenge for the scrimmage Oct. 17 when the Tar Heels return to Jack Katz for a regular season rivalry matchup.
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