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Third-ranked Duke field hockey to clash with No. 10 Virginia

Senior Jessica Buttinger and the No. 3 Blue Devils will face another stiff test this weekend as they play host to No. 10 Virginia.
Senior Jessica Buttinger and the No. 3 Blue Devils will face another stiff test this weekend as they play host to No. 10 Virginia.

Off to its best start since 1978, the road to perfection will not get any easier for Duke.

The third-ranked Blue Devils will meet No. 10 Virginia Friday at 6 p.m. at Jack Katz Stadium in what will be both teams’ second conference game of the season. With both teams undefeated in ACC play, the Blue Devils will face a stiff test against the Cavaliers. But Duke will have to be ready for a quick turnaround, as it also plays William & Mary (1-5) Sunday at 1 p.m at Busch Field in Williamsburg, Va.

The Blue Devils are confident in their young squad thanks to the work they put forth in the offseason.

“It’s been the hard work that we’ve put forth after the season last year. Losing eight seniors, our returning team had to really step up,” head coach Pam Bustin said. “They really addressed some issues we wanted to get better at over the spring, how we wanted to come into the fall and welcoming seven new freshmen. I give them a lot of credit.”

Duke (6-0) is coming off of an intense 2-1 win against Wake Forest—its first conference win of the season. Virginia added two victories last weekend with overtime wins against both Louisville and Rutgers.

Senior Jessica Buttinger has been an offensive leader for the Blue Devils. In the past three games alone, she has been a catalyst for the squad, registering two goals and one assist.

Virginia (5-2) finds most of its offensive success in the duo of freshman Tara Vittese and sophomore Caleigh Foust. Vittese—recently named ACC Field Hockey Player of the Week—has assisted Foust on the game-winning goal in each of the past two games.

“We’re very aware of key players for our opponents and Caleigh is definitely one of their key players. They have a few,” Bustin said. “If we can keep an eye on where they are on the field and what they’re doing but continue to keep our structure and keep our defensive organization and sound...I think it’ll be a good matchup.”

Duke is also strengthened by its exceptionally talented freshman class consisting of seven players—three of whom have already registered at least one goal this season. The Blue Devils have developed an excellent system for setting up shots, especially on penalty corners, where they have already attempted 44 corners through six games.

“It’s our culture on this team,” Bustin said. “The upperclassmen made a vow over the spring. Let’s keep our culture structured where you can feel comfortable and welcomed coming in right away because we need them.”

Although they have been able to keep games fairly close, the Tribe has struggled offensively with a shot percentage of .148 and an average of 1.33 goals so far this season. William & Mary junior Pippin Saunders will be essential for the Tribe against Duke, as she leads the team in points with five. Saunders will need to add to that total Sunday if William & Mary hopes to stage an upset of the Blue Devils.

Duke is coming off a weekend in which it defeated two ranked teams to solidify its best start in 36 years. This weekend will be another test for the Blue Devils’ perfect record.

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