The Blue Devils are eager to open their regular season with a weekend road trip north.
Duke opens its 2014 campaign with two road games in East Lansing, Mich. The first matchup will be against reigning Big Ten champion Michigan State Friday at 3 p.m., followed by a game against Central Michigan Sunday at 1 p.m at Ralph Young Field. The Blue Devils will look to win their first-ever road match against the Spartans and protect their undefeated record against the Chippewas.
“School has started… so we’re getting comfortable and into the routine of classes and practice with preseason sadly and clearly over,” head coach Pam Bustin said. “But we’re really excited about the actual competitive season beginning.”
Although last year’s squad never left the East Coast when traveling, Duke will make the trip to East Lansing for the first time in four years. The Blue Devils are excited not only to begin the season but also to make the 700-mile trek away from Durham.
“Last year we opened up at home, but I think this year it’s a perfect opportunity to go away,” Bustin said. “A lot of our girls were here for the second semester of summer school right into preseason, so maybe it’s a good time to leave and get some new scenery and really come together as a team on the road. It’s going to be fun.”
For two members of the Duke squad, new scenery isn’t as enticing as the prospect of seeing an old friend. Juniors Hannah Barreca and Aileen Johnson—who hail from Oceanport, N.J.—will be up against a former high school teammate in Spartan freshman Grace Santi.
“We played with [Santi] two years in high school,” Johnson said. “It’s going to be funny, because we’re friends with her family. It’ll be good to see them at home.”
Santi joins a Michigan State team that is fresh off a successful 2013 season. The Spartans took home the Big Ten tournament title and advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament after an upset win against second-seeded Syracuse. The squad returns senior forward Abby Barker, ranked 10th in the nation for her 0.9 goal-per-game average on a team averaging 2.63 goals per game.
“I think it’s a great challenge for us,” Bustin said. “It’s just what we need to open the season, to go against a formidable attacking team like Michigan State, and it’s going to be a great game.”
Goalkeeper Lauren Blazing will return to the goal after a week off the field to lead the Blue Devil backfield against the Spartan attack. With a save percentage of 0.792, the Durham native finished fifth in the nation and first in the ACC at the end of last year. The recent time off has benefitted both Blazing and the rest of the team.
“She makes a big difference,” Johnson said. “[Sophomore goalkeeper Kelsey Wagner] did a great job too, but having [Blazing] in the back, she organizes us and keeps our structure in order.”
For seven young members of the Duke squad, Friday’s game will be the first of their collegiate careers. Freshmen Ashley Kristen and Alexa Mackintire have already scored in preseason scrimmages, and six of the seven newcomers played in Sunday’s regulation-style scrimmage against North Carolina.
“We’re all really excited. With so many incoming freshmen—they’ve molded really well as a team,” Johnson said. “We’re really excited to get started. I know it’ll be a challenge, but I think we’ll be able to handle it.”
Looking past the chance at their first win on the road against Michigan State, the Blue Devils face off against Central Michigan, a team with just one goal scored against Duke across their three previous matchups.
“They’re a well-coached, very aggressive team, and you don’t want them to gain too much momentum at any one time,” Bustin said. “But for us, it’s about Duke and about us making the changes and going back to our structure and our basics to play our game.”
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