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Duke field hockey downs American in scrimmage as regular season nears

<p>Senior Aileen Johnson and the Blue Devils will open regular season action Friday against California.</p>

Senior Aileen Johnson and the Blue Devils will open regular season action Friday against California.

It is not often that a team beats its opponent twice in one day.

But that is exactly what the Blue Devils accomplished Saturday in Virginia Beach, Va., as they first defeated American 5-4 in a scrimmage and then again in a practice overtime period. With the victory, Duke wraps up the preseason with a 3-0 record in exhibition games, with two of those wins coming in shutout fashion. Saturday’s road trip marked the first time the Blue Devils traveled for a preseason scrimmage since it visited Wake Forest in 2012.

“We’re getting more game-ready,” Duke head coach Pam Bustin said. “We’re working on set pieces and we’re working on team buildup and [Saturday] gave us an opportunity to experience that in a game situation. [We were able to practice] making changes, having a structured attack and being able to recognize things within the game, too.”

The Blue Devils began preseason camp Aug. 12, returning nine starters from the 2014 team, which garnered a 13-7 record and an appearance in the NCAA quarterfinals. Since then, the team has focused on developing strong chemistry within the different units and establishing a strong defensive foundation.

Defense proved to be one of Duke’s greatest strengths a year ago, ending the season with a 1.2 goals against average—the seventh-best mark in the country—and recorded six shutouts.

Redshirt senior goalkeeper Lauren Blazing returns between the pipes as the anchor of the Blue Devil defense. The Durham native led the ACC in save percentage last fall and finished second among conference goalkeepers in goals against average en route to collecting second-team All-America honors.

READ: Blazing grabs gold with Team USA at Pan American Games

“We always spend time on developing our defensive organization,” Bustin said. “That’s the key to success and the key to building up an attack. We’ve also been really working on our attacking speed, making sure we get numbers around the ball and get people up in the attack. We definitely got to work on that [against American].”

At midfield, Duke will look to senior Aileen Johnson to step into a leadership role. Johnson was named as a National Field Hockey Coaches Association second team All-America honors last season after ranking among the top 20 players in the ACC in assists and points per game.

The Oceanport, N.J., native was a valued playmaker last fall, often stepping up when her team needed it most. Johnson knocked in two game-winners on the year—including the only score in a 1-0 victory against then-No. 7 Princeton—and notched two multiple-assist games.

“Our veterans are our key players,” Bustin said. “It’s the key to make sure that they understand what we’re doing and what’s going on. They need to be able to lead the team on the field as we put more and more people around the group.”

The Blue Devils’ exhibition contest against American—a team Duke could very well see again in the NCAA tournament—also doubled as a dress rehearsal for their season opener, which will be on the road.

The chance for the kids to practice getting off a bus, deciding where to eat and dealing with the logistics of an away game are important parts of Duke’s preseason training this year, Bustin said.

The Blue Devils will open their season Friday in Stanford, Calif., against California and stick around until Sunday to face off against Stanford on its home turf.

“Now it’s really going to be about getting game-ready with some of the key people that we’ve identified over the last two weeks,” Bustin said. “We’re going to use our depth to our advantage and give the team opportunity to build on their flow.”

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