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Duke field hockey takes attacking style west for season opener

<p>Junior Heather Morris and the Blue Devils will look to push things on the offensive end as they open the regular season on the West Coast this weekend.</p>

Junior Heather Morris and the Blue Devils will look to push things on the offensive end as they open the regular season on the West Coast this weekend.

The No. 5 Blue Devils will be on the attack and on the road to kick off the 2015 regular season.

Heading to the West Coast for the weekend, Duke will face California Friday at 3 p.m. and No. 6 Stanford Sunday at 5 p.m., with both matches on the Cardinal’s Varsity Field Hockey Turf in Stanford, Calif.

The squad has adjusted to a new style of play since the end of last season, switching to become more of an aggressive team on the offensive end. Head coach Pam Bustin said the change was motivated by recognizing opportunities when the Blue Devils could have gone on the offensive at the end of last season.

“The nature of the game—especially if they’re playing international like a lot of our kids are—is a very fast-paced, moving-forward game,” she said. “[We want] to find a happy medium where we find those opportunities to go forward and use them but still keep our possession game where it is.”

Senior midfielder Aileen Johnson—who led the team with seven assists and ranked second with six goals a year ago—is also excited about the team’s transition.

“We’ve been known as a defensive team and I think that it’s awesome that we have switched more to an attacking mentality,” Johnson said. “We’re going to attack, our defense, our offense, and we’re going to score. We say our best defense is our best attack.”

Ranked in the top 20 in the ACC in both assists and points per game last season, Johnson was named to the 11-player ACC preseason team announced Tuesday.  Redshirt senior goalkeeper Lauren Blazing also earned a spot on the conference preseason team after leading the ACC and ranking sixth nationally in save percentage at .786 in 2014.

Johnson and the Duke squad will face the first test of their new style of play this weekend, taking on their first top-10 opponent of the season Sunday. The Cardinal boast a strong defense anchored by 2014 First-Team All-American goalkeeper Dulcie Davies. Davies tallied a career-best 0.82 goals against average and matched her career low of 18 goals allowed last season.

After setting program records with 19 wins, a 12-game winning streak and the No. 3 spot in the national polls last year and winning its first NCAA tournament game, Stanford enters this season with its highest preseason ranking in program history and could challenge the Blue Devils’ spot in the preseason poll.

Duke will open the regular season against the Golden Bears—tabbed second in the West division of the America East Conference in a three-way tie with Pacific and University of California-Davis. California returns Clara Goni and Allie Zimmer as leaders on the offensive end but is also tasked with acclimating 10 freshmen to the college game.

The Blue Devils will look to keep nerves under control and find team rhythm on Friday, but seem to have adapted well to their new style of play after coasting through a 3-0 preseason slate.

“We just want to take things one game at a time, but I know we want to win. We all know that this is our year,” junior forward Heather Morris said. “The coaches have even said that we’re working on things that we would be normally working on midway through the season already, so we’re all ready to take it to [our opponents] and show everybody who Duke field hockey is.”

Jake Herb contributed reporting.

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