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Without Buttinger, Duke field hockey prepared to attack

<p>Jessica Buttinger paced Duke with 22 points last season, but head coach Pam Bustin and her squad are moving into the fall season after the graduation of their top offensive threat.</p>

Jessica Buttinger paced Duke with 22 points last season, but head coach Pam Bustin and her squad are moving into the fall season after the graduation of their top offensive threat.

Jessica Buttinger will not be in the Blue Devils’ lineup Friday.

She’s not sick, nor is she injured—she graduated.

When Duke opens its season Friday against California, it will be without last season’s leading scorer and stand-alone leader of the front line. The unique combination of speed and tenacity Buttinger brought to the Blue Devils’ offense will be sorely missed, but the impact she left on her teammates will ensure her legacy with the team lives on for many years to come.

“[Buttinger] was a great teammate,” junior forward Heather Morris said. “She was a really great motivator. She was really intense and you knew at all times that she was going to give you her 100 percent. She was just a great player to work with.”

When she arrived at Duke in 2011, Buttinger quickly made a name for herself as a player who would hunt down the ball until it was where she needed it to be. During her freshman year, she earned the nickname “track star” after running laps around her teammates in practice.

In her senior season, the Waterloo, Ontario, native was tasked with teaching a novice group of forwards what it meant to play Duke field hockey. In the time since Buttinger’s departure, Duke head coach Pam Bustin has noticed the underclassmen seem to have picked up on a few of Buttinger’s old habits.

“Now, instead of having one or two people who want to hunt down the ball and find a way to finish, we’ve got six or seven kids who want to do that,” Bustin said. “That’s something [Buttinger] has left as a legacy.”

Seeing a new group of players step into the role vacated by Buttinger is a positive sign for the burgeoning, young team, as replacing Buttinger’s impact on the scoreboard will take a group effort.

Last season, Buttinger registered eight goals and six assists, making her the most potent offensive weapon on the team. Equally important to how often she scored, though, was when she scored. Buttinger provided the final touch for three game-winning goals in 2014—including one against the eventual ACC champions, Wake Forest.

However, Morris believes Duke will have no trouble replacing Buttinger’s firepower this season with their depth up front.

“It’s more of a team effort this year,” Morris said. “We have a lot of good young talent. Ashley [Kristen] and I and all the forwards, we work really well together. Point scoring will be pretty distributed. Who knows, somebody might take off during the year. We don’t know that yet, but right now everybody is doing a really good job.”

Although the Blue Devils appear to have a solution for replacing Buttinger’s impact in the box score, it is not clear yet who will replace her as the leader of the front line. Buttinger was well known for her aggressive style of play and ability to rally her teammates at their lowest times.

It may be that a player emerges as a vocal team leader after a few games, but currently there is no clear-cut candidate to replace Buttinger’s off-the-field role—and that may not be a problem.

For a team that strives for equality between players on the field, the concept of having many leaders represents an ideal solution.

“A lot of people look to Aileen [Johnson] for leadership,” Morris said. “But everyone has their moments on our team, which is the best thing. Even some of the freshmen, Erin [Scherrer] coming in and Caroline [Andretta], you can look to them for energy. It’s not just one person leading us—it’s everybody.”

With nine starters returning from last year’s squad, Duke appears primed to consistently challenge opponents in the scoring circle and put some of Buttinger’s lessons to good use.

“[Last year] we had a lot of players playing with [Buttinger] who hadn’t had a whole lot of experience playing forward line for Duke,” Bustin said. “Now those players have a fall and a spring under their belts…and you still have people like Sarah [Urdahl] and Heather [Morris] who have the experience to push it.”

With depth and strong team chemistry as their foundation, the Blue Devils will look to start off their season with a pair of wins this weekend and make another run in the NCAA tournament come November.

And even though she’s gone, Buttinger will be there every step of the way.

“[Buttinger] is still with us in a way,” Bustin said. “She’s dispersed amongst the kids who played with her.”


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