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Duke field hockey to take on Syracuse to cap ACC regular season schedule

Duke goalkeeper Lauren Blazing will be tasked with slowing down one of the nation’s top offenses this weekend against Syracuse.
Duke goalkeeper Lauren Blazing will be tasked with slowing down one of the nation’s top offenses this weekend against Syracuse.

Entering the final weekend of the ACC schedule, the Blue Devils have one final chance to improve their conference record before the postseason begins and seeds are set.

No. 6 Duke travels to New York to take on No. 10 Syracuse in both teams’ final ACC showdown of the 2014 regular season Saturday at 1 p.m. The contest will be the second in program history between the two teams and the first played at J.S. Coyne Stadium.

“For us, it’s just a conference game that we have to take care of,” head coach Pam Bustin said. “We’ve been working on our game and our game strategy and how we want to play it.”

In last season’s contest, the Orange (10-3, 1-4 in the ACC) edged out a 2-1 double-overtime win that lasted 90 minutes. The Blue Devil defense fought to stay even after junior defender Hannah Barreca’s go-ahead goal, but the Syracuse attack fired shot after shot—25 on the day—until forward Lauren Brooks managed to find the net and seal the win.

“We learned a lot from that game last year,” Bustin said. “We want to be the one who hopefully gets on the board first [this time] and continue to attack that way.”

Brooks returns to the squad this season as just one of many offensive weapons for Syracuse. With seven goals scored this season, she ties Duke senior forward Jessica Buttinger’s goal tally, but sits behind three of her teammates in the goals-scored column. The Orange’s 3.64 scoring average is the best in the conference, despite the team’s current place at the bottom of the ACC standings.

“We’ll have to respect and recognize that [they have strong scorers],” Bustin said. “But we’re working a lot on our backfield structure and our individual discipline, so it’s going to be challenged on Saturday, but hopefully our preparation will prepare us to play that.”

A ttraditionally high scoring Syracuse offense will be up against a Blue Devil backfield that has notched five shutouts this season, tied with North Carolina for the most of any ACC team. Led by redshirt junior goalkeeper Lauren Blazing, Duke (11-4, 2-3) has dominated the defensive end of the field throughout the season, allowing just 1.07 goals per game.

So far this season, Blazing and the Blue Devil defense have been able to stymie some of the most dangerous offenses in the country. North Carolina, Virginia and James Madison all rank in the nation’s top 10 in goals per game, and all were held to two goals or fewer when facing Duke.

“We’re just thinking about us and focusing on us and doing the basics,” freshman defender Sarah Furey said. “[We’re] marking, keeping tight and staying with ourselves and the tactics we’ve been using all season.”

Duke’s seed in the conference tournament rests not only on its success against Syracuse, but also the outcomes of two other ACC matchups on the same day. The Tar Heels and Wake Forest, both 3-2, will face off in Chapel Hill, N.C., and Boston College will get the chance to improve to 3-3 with an upset win against conference leader Virginia.

As usual, the ACC has been a strong presence in the NCAA this season, with all seven teams nationally ranked in the top 14 and five in the top 10. This season’s conference results reflect the league’s parity, as seven conference contests have gone into extra minutes, and all but one game have been decided by a margin of two goals or fewer.

“It’s hard to figure out what’s going on right now with the ACC,” Bustin said. “Putting us at 3-3 in the conference gets us in the middle of the pack, which we want, and it is significant as far as who we play and where we finish in the league. But a lot of things will have to happen on the weekend as well.”

After Saturday, the Blue Devils will conclude their 2014 regular season at Richmond before turning their focus onto the postseason, which begins Nov. 6 at Williams Field at Jack Katz Stadium with the ACC tournament.

“We’re going to take it one game at a time then focus on going through ACC’s,” Furey said. “We always work on our basics, every single day, and that’s what’s going to carry us through as far as we can go.”

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