Just two days after officially beginning their preseason, the Blue Devils will get their first test as a collective unit, meshing six new faces in with 16 returning players.
Duke will open exhibition play Friday at 7 p.m. against the College of Charleston at Patriots Point Stadium in Charleston, S.C., looking to set the tone for the upcoming season. The Blue Devils are coming off a .500 season, going 9-9-1 overall and 4-4 in conference play.
“Our last season was disappointing,” senior midfielder Zach Mathers told GoDuke.com. “Everyone is ready to prove that we can be and we are a tournament team. I think everyone is really ready to take this opportunity.”
The 16 players returning to Duke’s squad include seven starters from a year ago. The Blue Devils' top offensive weapon, forward Brody Huitema, will look to best his five goals and five assists from 2014. Mathers, a two-time All-ACC selection, will also be a key cog in the offense for head coach John Kerr. The Keller, Texas, native will help anchor a young roster in his senior season after completing a summer campaign with the Carolina Railhawks U-23 team, where he was joined by five other teammates.
Sophomores Cameron Moseley and Brian White will look to expand their impact on offense after posting impressive freshman seasons, with classmates Markus Fjørtoft and Kevon Black returning to anchor the defense.
“I think the team is a lot better this year than last,” Fjørtoft told GoDuke.com. “We came in [last season] with a big freshman class and we were only there for two or three weeks before we started the season. This year we’re one year older. We’re better players and we’ve developed.”
Kerr also welcomes six newcomers to the program, three of whom are transfers. After starting 18 games for Syracuse in 2014, defender Tyler Hilliard will join Duke for his final year of eligibility. Jared Rist, a Durham native, will add to the back line after four years of experience at Georgetown. Sophomore Joe Ohaus and graduate student Wilson Fisher will also have added competition between the pipes with the addition of goalkeeper in Mitch Kupstas, who will complete his eligibility at Duke after graduating from Brown.
The Blue Devils will also add three freshmen in Torbjørn Alseth, Ciaran McKenna and Oliver Spring, all of whom hail from outside the United States. Spring, a Toronto native, graduated high school early and joined the Duke squad for the spring semester. Alseth crossed the Atlantic Ocean from Norway to spend the next four years in Durham, and McKenna passed up a three-year deal from his favorite childhood club in Scotland to bolster an already talented Blue Devil roster.
Although Duke seems to have all of the talent necessary to better its even record from 2014, Friday’s scrimmage in Charleston will be the first chance for this hodgepodge of newcomers and veterans to test their chemistry in a game setting. The Cougars enter Friday's matchup with a chip on their shoulder as well after notching just two wins last season and dropping all of their league games.
The Blue Devils will have multiple opportunities to fine-tune team dynamics before officially kicking off the season against St. Mary's at the John Rennie Nike Invitational Aug. 28. After taking on the Cougars Friday, Duke team will return to Durham to host UNC Charlotte in their home debut Aug. 21, the last contest on its exhibition slate.
“It’s always hard to find the chemistry and find the team’s identity,” Fjørtoft said. “I think we can already see now that we’re getting into something big.”
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