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Duke field hockey goes for repeat upset of No. 1 North Carolina

Redshirt junior goalkeeper Lauren Blazing and the Blue Devils will look to slow down No. 1 North Carolina Friday.
Redshirt junior goalkeeper Lauren Blazing and the Blue Devils will look to slow down No. 1 North Carolina Friday.

If last year’s contest was any indication, Friday guarantees an exciting night of field hockey.

No. 8 Duke will welcome crosstown rival and top-ranked North Carolina to Williams Field at Jack Katz Stadium Friday at 6 p.m. with hopes of reliving last year’s thrilling win.

Eight Blue Devils graduated from the 2013 squad, but 13 still remember the shootout victory that knocked the Tar Heels out of the nation’s top slot.

“The energy and the excitement of remembering that game still exists obviously because it was such an awesome, epic game for both sides,” head coach Pam Bustin said. “Many people say it’s one of the best field hockey games they’ve seen, ever.”

After fighting back from a 2-0 deficit at the start of the game, a combination of shootout conversions from Duke and a fourth-shot stop from redshirt junior goalkeeper Lauren Blazing sent the Tar Heels home with their first loss of the 2013 season.

“For the returners, [last year’s win] plays a big part because we think about how great it felt to beat UNC,” senior midfielder Abby Beltrani said. “But also, we can’t harp too much on the past, so we just have to take the positives from that game and try to move it forward into this game.”

North Carolina (11-2, 2-2 in the ACC) has been a dominant force in the league this season, back at the No. 1 spot and averaging 3.63 goals per game. The Tar Heel offense, led by senior forward Charlotte Craddock, has already scored 48 goals through 13 games. Not to be overlooked, the defensive effort has given up only 14 goals from opponents, which gives it the fifth-best goals-against average—1.06—in the nation, right behind Duke’s 0.98 average.

In the current ACC standings, Duke (10-3, 2-2) sits in fourth place with North Carolina at third and just three weeks left in the season. In the 2013 contest, the rivals demonstrated that top-ranked programs have to bring more than skill and stamina onto the field to claim the victory.

“The whole entire game, we just put the pressure on them,” Beltrani said. “We didn’t have a moment where we weren’t really fierce and intense…. If we just bring that for 70 minutes—or however long it takes—then I think it’ll be a pretty good success for us.”

Although some aspects of Friday’s game mirror last year’s—team rank, on-the-field strengths—there are also important distinctions. The teams themselves are noticeably different, with the two squads adding a combined 15 names to their rosters and subtracting 13. Additionally, this round will be played in Durham, where the Blue Devils have only lost once this season.

“It’s awesome [to be at home],” Bustin said. “We love our field. We love to have the home crowd…. To welcome [North Carolina] here and to play that kind of hockey on a Friday night here at Jack Katz Stadium, you couldn’t ask for anything better.”

After the highly touted Friday matchup, Duke will turn to face James Madison (9-4) for a 1 p.m. Sunday game that will also be the Blue Devils’ Senior Day. Beltrani will join classmates Jessica Buttinger and Martine Chichizola in being honored before their final regular season home appearance.

“We’re going to have to be on our game regardless of anything that happens Friday night,” Bustin said. “It’s another day that we have to take care of in order for us to continue to fulfill our mission here, and I’m excited about it.”

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