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Duke field hockey shuts out Davidson and Wake Forest to open preseason

<p>Junior Heather Morris netted a hat trick Saturday in Duke's exhibition shutout against Davidson.</p>

Junior Heather Morris netted a hat trick Saturday in Duke's exhibition shutout against Davidson.

If anyone was sleeping on the Blue Devils this season, now might be a good time to wake up.

Duke defeated Davidson and Wake Forest in shutout fashion this weekend to end the first week of preseason training. The two-day homestand kicked off Saturday at Jack Katz Stadium, where the Blue Devils put on an offensive clinic for the visiting Wildcats. In 60 minutes of play, they notched eight goals—three of which came off the stick of junior forward Heather Morris.

Duke tapped into the same attacking rhythm Sunday, downing the defending conference champion Demon Deacons 2-0 in a preview of the Blue Devils’ Sept. 11 conference opener against Wake Forest.

“It’s such a great opportunity to work on some game situations this early in the preseason,” Duke head coach Pam Bustin said. “We were able to interchange, get people in at different spots and work on personal connections that you can’t get in a regular practice.”

The weekend tune-ups also provided Bustin’s squad with a chance to showcase its chemistry on both sides of the ball. Despite adding six freshmen to the roster and dealing with all the growing pains that process entails, the Blue Devils appeared cohesive and in sync this weekend, outperforming their opponents with superior ball movement.

The crisp passing quickly translated into control of the pace of play, and Duke was able to sustain a relentless attack both days to keep its opponents on their heels. Davidson and Wake Forest were never given the opportunity to mount attacks of their own.

The Blue Devils did not allow the Wildcats to register a shot on goal through three 20-minute periods Saturday, and Wake Forest’s stats were not much better—just one shot on goal in 75 minutes of play.

“This is definitely a special group,” senior defender Hannah Barreca said. “I’ve been on a lot of teams with really good chemistry, and I’ve been on some without. This is a great group, and I’m really excited to get to work with them this year. We’re going to have a great season.”

For several freshmen, Sunday’s game against the Demon Deacons held a special significance as their first taste of ACC competition.

Defender Morgan Bitting saw the most time against Wake Forest with 60 minutes played, and forward Erin Scherrer took the field for 56 minutes. Midfielder Christy Palazzese and forward Rose Tynan each logged minutes as well, with Tynan drawing a yellow card in the final minutes of the match.

“It’s definitely different playing an ACC team,” Scherrer said. “I loved it, though. The team is always so encouraging. There are a lot of freshmen on the team who have been getting good minutes, and the returners always support us. They make us feel really comfortable—when we go out there, it’s super calm.”

Excluding questions about the look of the starting lineup, the Blue Devils appear on pace to reach regular season form ahead of their Aug. 28 opener against California.

But if there is anything that can be gleaned from a full weekend of exhibition play, it is that this Duke team is as versatile as it is deep. Nine starters return from the 2014 squad that finished the season ranked ninth in the country, with six freshmen backing them up and a slew of other players hungry for playing time.

With one more scrimmage remaining—a Saturday meeting against American—Bustin also has the opportunity to further experiment with different line options and formations.

“What I told the team before the game [Sunday] is that nobody is guaranteed a spot,” Bustin said. “The starting lineup could be different game-to-game and minutes can change from game to game because we’re pretty deep, and that’s really exciting. We have the flexibility to change our formations and change our lineup in all different ways.”

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