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Duke field hockey welcomes North Carolina for preseason scrimmage

Redshirt junior goalie Lauren Blazing will look to stifle a dangerous North Carolina team, and will be key to Duke's bid to make a repeat trip to the NCAA national championship game.
Redshirt junior goalie Lauren Blazing will look to stifle a dangerous North Carolina team, and will be key to Duke's bid to make a repeat trip to the NCAA national championship game.

The Blue Devils will host a friendly matchup with their cross-town rival to prepare for the start of their season, which is just a week away.

Duke will play its second and final scrimmage of the fall, welcoming North Carolina to Jack Katz Stadium Sunday at 1 p.m. Unlike last week’s matchup against Davidson, this scrimmage will function like a regular game with two 35-minute halves and scores recorded.

“Hopefully we grow from what we learned in that first match [against Davidson],” head coach Pam Bustin said. “I’m hoping that in Sunday’s match we’re able to continue to build on some of the tactics that we’re working on and have a chance to take that and improve before our opening game.”

North Carolina advanced to the semifinal round of the 2013 NCAA tournament only to fall to the eventual national champion, Connecticut. When the Tar Heels faced the Blue Devils last September, the match stayed close until Duke edged out a victory in an overtime shootout.

“[North Carolina is] obviously always a perennial leader, not only in the conference but in the country, and I’m expecting the same from them this year,” Bustin said. “That’s what makes having a preseason scrimmage with a team of their caliber so great. It’s going to force us to acknowledge how we’re playing and to rise up to a better level.”

Both teams enter Sunday looking different from their previous encounter. Although both added eight freshmen to their respective rosters, the Tar Heels graduated only four seniors to the Blue Devils’ eight. But Duke's class of 2018 seems up to the challenge of filling the large shoes left by last year's graduates.

“We graduated more than half our starting lineup,” Bustin said. “These freshmen coming in fit in great. They came here knowing what was going to be expected of them and knowing what the culture here was, so they’re enjoying it.”

Freshman Ashley Kristen notched her first goal as a college athlete in Sunday’s scrimmage against Davidson, adding to scores by her upperclassmen teammates. Kristen and her classmates will look to the returning players—members of the squad that traveled to the 2013 NCAA championship match—to lead by example.

“The returners have grown tremendously from last season,” Bustin said. “They all put in the work that they had to do over the summer, so I think that they’re coming back as better-seasoned and definitely more experienced winners.”

On the offensive end, Duke returns two of its five leaders in scores and assists—senior Jessica Buttinger and sophomore Heather Morris. Defensively, the Blue Devils will rely on redshirt junior Lauren Blazing in goal. Blazing ranked among the nation's best in save percentage last season and was recently named to the 2014-15 Women’s National Field Hockey team roster.

Looking past Sunday, Duke begins its 2014 campaign with a contest at Michigan State Aug. 29. This fall, the Blue Devils have a matchup against the ACC’s newest member, Louisville, and will also host the 2014 ACC championship.

Duke enters the season with high hopes given its success in the 2013 campaign, finishing as runners-up to the champion Huskies. If the Blue Devils can replace the loss of last year's talent, they stand a good chance of making it back to the Final Four in College Park, Md., in November.

“We enjoyed last year, and last year helped us define who we are and what our goals are. Now it’s a whole new mix and a whole new path to get back to the same place,” Bustin said. “That’s what makes it fun, it’s always different, and so we’re going to have to find a way to continue to reach our goals but with a new group.”


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