After cruising to three wins to kick off the 2015 campaign, the Blue Devils face their first heavy battle this season, one that will require all the artillery and backups at their disposal.
No. 8 Duke hits the road to take on perennial championship contender No. 5 Northwestern Thursday at 4 p.m. at the Accelerated Center in Northbrook, Ill. With the Wildcats having won the past 11 matchups between the two teams—dating back to 2006—the Blue Devils hope their early season success will propel them to snap the streak.
“These first three games have been great preparation, just going into bigger opponent, bigger name,” senior midfielder Katie Trees said. “Whenever you’re playing in a different environment, it always brings an added element of surprise and not knowing what’s going to happen.”
Duke (3-0) enters the game having just braved 22-degree temperatures and gusty winds Sunday against Navy, but the Windy City is a different animal. Located on the banks of Lake Michigan, Lakeside Field—Northwestern’s on-campus lacrosse facility—gets its name for a reason, and game-time temperatures are projected at a brisk 3 degrees Fahrenheit, not including the 12 mph winds.
Instead of facing the full force of the elements, the Blue Devils and Wildcats will take their talents inside at the Accelerated Center, located a few miles from the Evanston, Ill., campus. It is the only Northwestern home game scheduled to be played there this season.
Although Duke will not have to face the added obstacle of frigid weather, it will take another strong performance from the entire roster to take down the Wildcats.
Even this early into the season, the Blue Devils have stepped up and stood out. Kyra Harney earned Inside Lacrosse Rookie of the Week honors for her three goals and two assists in two games last weekend, and the ACC named junior Kelsey Duryea its Defensive Player of the Week. The goalkeeper leads the conference with just 4.64 goals allowed per contest.
In addition, with the graduation of team leader Taylor Virden last year, Trees, Brigid Smith, Taylor Trimble and Kerrin Maurer have proven worthy new senior leaders.
The Blue Devil offense has been balanced through three games, as six players have found the back of the net at least five times. Trimble leads the way in the scoring department with seven goals, Smith ranks third in the ACC in assists per game and Maurer has built on a strong junior campaign—when her 87 points ranked eighth in the nation—with six goals and three assists through three games.
On the other end of the field is a Northwestern team that has reached the NCAA semifinals 10 years in a row. The success blossomed at the hands of Duke in 2006, when the Wildcats beat the Blue Devils 11-10 in double-overtime in the national semifinals.
From there, Northwestern would win seven titles in eight seasons while Duke would lose four consecutive years in the semifinals. The Blue Devils have lost all 10 subsequent meetings to the Wildcats.
“Northwestern is a great opponent, they always have been,” Trees said. “It’s always a great game when we play them, so I think it’s just going to come down to who really wants to win, and who has more heart.”
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In its first game, Northwestern (2-0) struggled against an unranked Southern California team that finished 9-9 last season, starting in a 7-0 hole. Still, the Wildcats dug out of it and won the game 12-11 in overtime, powered by four goals and two assists from standout freshman Selena Lasota in her first collegiate game.
Northwestern then took on No. 7 and always-competitive Virginia, scoring six times and emerging victorious as third-year starting goalkeeper Bridget Bianco only allowed five.
Although Northwestern may have had to exert more energy playing two tougher opponents, it enters with plenty of experience under its belt. By contrast, Duke has had little trouble playing against three small-conference foes.
In this battle between two perennial titans, Duke will hope to expose what has been the most glaring blemish on its opponent’s resume— losing draw controls 25-15 to its two opponents. Although the sample size is small, the Wildcats have also shot only 40.9 percent compared to their opponents’ 44.4 percent.
To leave the Windy City with a win, Duke will need to shut down Northwestern’s leading scorers and offensive threats, Lapota and senior Kara Mupo. The two have combined for 11 of the Wildcats’ 18 goals, their only two assists and more than half of their shots on goal.
“I have no doubt that those who are matched up on [Lapota] will do really, really well, and even as a unit collectively, will help her out whenever we need slides,” Trees said. “We’ve been playing awesome defense together… and hopefully [the game] swings in our favor.”