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Duke field hockey to face Louisville in ACC showdown

Senior Jessica Buttinger and the Blue Devil offense will look to strike early against Louisville.
Senior Jessica Buttinger and the Blue Devil offense will look to strike early against Louisville.

With half of the regular season complete, two talented teams await Duke with hopes of ruining its perfect record away from home.

The No. 4 Blue Devils will face No. 12 Louisville at Trager Stadium Friday at 6 p.m. before heading to Bloomington, Ind., to take on Indiana Sunday at noon. As dominant programs at the midpoint in the regular season, the three teams have combined for just five losses this year, setting the stage for an exciting weekend of field hockey.

“It’s really going to be a great weekend for us to lock in and get the job done,” head coach Pam Bustin said. “We’ve had good weekends all season, battling weekends, but on the road out there [with] two very potent teams, we have to be on our toes.”

The Blue Devils will be the Cardinals’ fourth conference opponent since joining the ACC for the 2014 season. Louisville (8-2, 2-1 in the ACC) has already made its presence known in the conference by handing No. 1 North Carolina its first loss of the season and edging out an overtime win against Wake Forest a week later.

“Louisville is always a strong team,” Bustin said. “They’re amongst a conference—like I’ve recently learned—that puts you in the top tier anyway just because every day you’re competing, and every day anyone can win…. Their record could be the same as it was last year, but now it’s different because they’re in the ACC.”

With 36 goals on the season, the Cardinal offense is ranked fourth nationally in goals per game, producing 15.1 shots per game and surrendering just 8.2 from opponents. Leading the Louisville attack is senior defender Alyssa Voelmle with seven goals in 10 games, but five Cardinals have already notched 10 or more points on the season.

Countering the Louisville attack will be Duke’s stalwart defense anchored by redshirt junior goalkeeper Lauren Blazing, whose five shutouts, 0.54 goals against average and 0.875 save percentage lead the ACC. The Blue Devils—who rank third in the nation for shutout percentage—will be up against a Cardinal squad that has scored at least one goal in every contest, including its two losses.

“On the field, it’s really important for me in the backfield to hold it down, stay composed and just be sure that we’re having that really confident aura surrounding the team starting from the back forward,” Blazing said. “[If] we know that one player’s going to have a big impact on the other team… we’ll have an awareness like you would for any game… but all in all the game plan stays the same—we stay Duke.”

Of the two ACC foes, Duke (8-1, 1-1) has more momentum after notching a 2-0 shutout against California in its most recent contest and receiving a break from competition with a bye Sunday. Louisville turned from four straight wins—including those against the Tar Heels and Demon Deacons—straight into a 2-1 loss to Liberty Sunday.

The game will take place at the Cardinals’ home stadium, where they have gone undefeated this season. Since the Blue Devils are undefeated on the road, Friday’s game will inevitably ruin one perfect record or the other. The trip to Trager Stadium will also be a homecoming of sorts for Bustin, who served as Louisville’s head coach from 1998-2010 before starting at Duke.

“It’s a great place to play. It’s a great city, I’m excited to get back there, I just love it,” Bustin said. “Louisville always has a good game, and we’ve played ACC teams before when I was back there and it’s always a good matchup—they always play well. It’ll be a little different—it’s been awhile—so it’s definitely a new team at Louisville and it’s definitely a new team here for me at Duke.”

After Friday’s marquee conference contest, the Blue Devils will travel to Indiana (7-2) for a nonconference matchup against a team that was undefeated until two weeks ago. The Hoosiers—led by senior forward Audra Heilman and her nine goals—were stunned with a 4-0 loss in Durham for Duke’s 2013 season opener and will seek revenge on their home field Sunday.

“They were 7-0 going into the week before [last], so they’re a good team” junior defender Hannah Barreca said. “We’ve played them before, so it should be a good matchup again. [They’re] two really tough games, two different styles than we play, so it’ll be fun.”

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