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Duke field hockey tops No. 7 Princeton in 1-0 duel

In a hard-fought battle between two evenly matched teams, the Blue Devils proved that persistence pays off.

No. 4 Duke defeated No. 7 Princeton 1-0 in a low-scoring yet fast-paced contest Friday at Jack Katz Stadium. The Blue Devils managed a goal after 58 scoreless minutes and then succeeded in fending off the Tigers’ attempts at a comeback.

“I’m just so pleased that the kids stayed with it,” head coach Pam Bustin said. “They didn’t get discouraged with it, they didn’t get too frustrated with it. They just kept up the pace of play and stayed to what we know…. I’m really proud of the way we finished that one play and hung onto it for the rest of the game.”

After Duke (3-0) failed to convert its first 11 penalty corners into points, it got all the offense it would need when junior midfielder Aileen Johnson tapped the ball around the outstretched hands of Princeton goalkeeper Anya Gersoff and straight into the goal for her first of the season.

Gersoff denied every other Blue Devil scoring attempt, ending the day with a career-high 12 saves on the day. The shot that edged past her came only after she was already stretched on the ground, having recently saved yet another shot on goal.

“Anya’s a very good goalie, we knew that,” Johnson said. “We kept the pressure up. We were always up there, so we knew it was going to go in eventually.”

The first half of play saw Duke fire off three shots and earn four penalty corners, while the Tigers’ offense stayed silent. But at the start of the second half, Princeton (0-1) raced down the field to declare its offensive presence, gaining its first corner just a minute into the second half. The ensuing shot sailed above the goal, and the Tigers wouldn’t make another strong challenge on the offensive third until the final few minutes.

After averaging 8.5 penalty corners per game in 2013, Princeton achieved only four through 70 minutes of play. Ranked ninth nationally with 3.21 goals per game last season, the Tiger offense not only finished scoreless but only managed one shot on goal. The on-goal shot plus three of the penalty corners all came in the final five minutes with the score 1-0, forcing the Blue Devils to scramble to protect their lead.

“Whether you have a defensive corner at the beginning of the game or at the end of the game, we try to just stay to business,” Bustin said. “We don’t want to exaggerate the fact that there’s only a minute left, or say, ‘Oh, this doesn’t matter—there are 35 minutes left.' It’s a matter of just taking care of business, staying on task and just doing our jobs.”

The frenzy to find the back of the net was shared evenly across Duke’s roster. 10 different Blue Devils took shots, with seven trying more than once for a team total of 20 shots on the day. For a historically low-scoring team, the high number of shots-per-game suggests a different strategy in the making for this season.

“I guess we just need more practice,” Bustin said. “We’ve been working on scoring opportunities. We’ve been working on capitalizing on our penalty corners, but obviously it’s still a work in progress.”

With the win, Duke has posted a perfect ledger both on the road and at home. The Blue Devils will have the chance to extend their home winning streak when they take on Temple Sunday at noon. Having never previously bested Princeton in a game played in Durham, Friday’s victory carried a little more weight than any usual home win.

“I love playing here, and the kids have been waiting for this,” Bustin said. “Williams Field at Jack Katz Stadium is our home turf, and we like to defend it.”

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