The highly anticipated day has come for the Blue Devils.
With their long-term sights set on a national championship, No. 8 Duke will kick off its 2015 season on the road against Elon Saturday at 1 p.m. at Phoenix Rhodes Stadium in Elon, N.C.
“We’re all really excited to just play and see all the work we put into preseason come into fruition,” senior Taylor Trimble said.
The Blue Devils hold a lot of promise for the upcoming season, returning 25 players and eight starters from last year’s team that reached the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament.
Duke heads into the regular season with momentum after a decisive 16-8 triumph against Towson in an exhibition game Jan. 31, and will take on the Phoenix with history on its side. The Blue Devils boast a commanding 18-1 record in season openers.
From there, though, the schedule gets tough for Duke, which will face 10 opponents ranked in the top 20 in the IWLCA preseason poll, including three in the top five. The Blue Devils’ most challenging upcoming contests include No. 3 Syracuse and No. 2 North Carolina, slated for March 28 and April 17, respectively.
Senior leaders in Trimble and Kerrin Maurer will be counted on to anchor the offense for head coach Kerstin Kimel. The duo served as the primary contributors for the Blue Devil attack last season boasting 58 and 32 goals, respectively. The senior standouts were two of four Blue Devils to be named to the Inside Lacrosse Face-Off Yearbook Preseason All-America Teams.
Senior defender Gabby Moise and goalie Kelsey Duryea also received the pre-season recognition. Duryea provides a strong, experienced presence between the pipes—the junior ranked second in the ACC in saves in 2014 and has compiled a total of 267 career saves. Duryea also led the team in ground balls, collecting 48 last year.
Duke’s road to the championship begins Saturday with Elon. In just the second year of the program, the Phoenix are a young team, mostly composed of freshmen and sophomores. Elon went 8-9 in its first season of competition in 2014.
“They are not as experienced or old as the other ACC programs,” Trimble said. “But at the same time we played them in the fall, they were very competitive, scrappy and athletic, so they’re definitely good competition.”
The Elon team has a special connection to Duke, with two Blue Devil alumni—Taylor Virden and Maddy Morrissey—serving as volunteer assistant coaches to head coach Josh Hexter.
After a commanding win against the Tigers in last weekend's scrimmage, the Blue Devils have been focusing on building cohesion as a unit heading into Saturday's game.
“Right now we’re focusing on implementing what we’re working on in practice so whether it be plays or just skills or just getting used to playing alongside other teammates, just trying to get that to translate into games,” Trimble said. “Offensively we want to just be sharp and crisp with our ball movement and I think that’s where we get a lot of our success from is just from consistent fundamentals and to just move the ball quickly and keep the defense moving and engaged."
Saturday's contest will be the first for the squad's nine freshmen, who have helped to push Trimble and the other veterans in practice. The new class is headlined by attack Kyra Harney, a U.S. Lacrosse and Under Armour All-American.
With some tough ACC contests on the horizon, the Blue Devils look to take it one game at a time.
“You recognize that it’s going to be a long season but to keep making improvements and I think to just take it one day at a time, that’s really what we’re focusing on now,” Trimble said. “[We want] to practice hard and see it translate into games.”
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