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Duke field hockey selected to NCAA tournament field

Senior Jessica Buttinger and the Blue Devils will begin their push to reach back-to-back Final Fours this weekend against Northwestern in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Senior Jessica Buttinger and the Blue Devils will begin their push to reach back-to-back Final Fours this weekend against Northwestern in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

The road back to the Final Four begins just eight miles from home for the Blue Devils.

The selection committee revealed its 19-team bracket for the NCAA tournament Sunday night, placing No. 7 Duke in the same pod as rival North Carolina, the tournament's top overall seed. The Blue Devils will take on Northwestern Saturday at 2 p.m. at Francis E. Henry Stadium in Chapel Hill in the first round of the tournament.

Last season, Duke made a deep postseason run, riding the experience of its veterans to the Final Four before losing to Connecticut in the national title game. After losing seven seniors to graduation, the Blue Devils reloaded this year and now have a chance to make a repeat trip to the tournament's final weekend.

To do so, Duke will lean heavily on its three seniors—midfielder Abby Beltrani and forwards Jessica Buttinger and Martine Chichizola—on the offensive end. The trio has combined for 10 goals and nine assists this season.

“I give our three seniors a lot of credit, having played in last year’s national championship game, and finding a way to lead a young team to another NCAA tournament," Duke head coach Pam Bustin said in a press release. "Through the ups and downs of the season, they kept persevering and now we’re really excited that we have an opportunity to play and to be close to home.”

If the Blue Devils (12-6) top the Wildcats (16-6) Saturday, they will advance to face either the Tar Heels or the winner of Wednesday's play-in game between Richmond and Liberty in Sunday's second round at 2 p.m.

Duke will be very familiar with the opponents in its pod, having played four games against them in the past month. The Blue Devils defeated both Richmond and Liberty in non-conference play and dropped two games against the Tar Heels, including a 2-1 overtime loss in the ACC tournament quarterfinals last week. Duke has recent experience playing against Northwestern as well; the Blue Devils fell 3-2 to the Wildcats last year at Jack Katz Stadium.

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