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Blue Devils host undefeated Blue Hens in Friday test

<p>After splitting a pair of games last weekend, Duke will look to build momentum when it hosts Delaware Friday at 6 p.m.</p>

After splitting a pair of games last weekend, Duke will look to build momentum when it hosts Delaware Friday at 6 p.m.

After an up-and-down weekend that saw the Blue Devils take out yet another ranked opponent in No. 15 Old Dominion in Durham but suffer their second consecutive ACC defeat to No. 4 Virginia on the road, the team will look to continue to assert itself on its home turf.

Undefeated No. 12 Delaware will venture south to challenge No. 6 Duke at 6 p.m. Friday at Jack Katz Stadium. The Blue Hens, whose stout offensive attack ranks second in the nation at 4.9 goals per game, snuck out a victory Sunday, defeating Pacific 1-0. Delaware’s lone goal was scored by forward Lisa Giezeman, who has the seventh most goals per game of any NCAA Division I field hockey player in the country.

The Blue Devils have dominated non-conference opponents up to this point in the season, falling just once to Stanford in a 3-2 overtime loss Aug. 30. Sophomore forward Ashley Kristen has played a major role in leading the charge for Duke, but has not been alone in leading her squad.

“The biggest key to the team’s success has just been the attack mentality,” Kristen said. “We always have each other’s back when we need to and then are there for support.”

The Vancouver, British Columbia, native now leads the nation in assists per game at 1.1 and has built upon her freshman season, when she finished among the top three Blue Devils in both goals and points.

Delaware (8-0) enters Friday night’s contest having faced not nearly as rigorous a schedule as the one set by Duke head coach Pam Bustin. Six of the Blue Devils’ first eight games have been against nationally ranked opponents.

“These kids come here to play top-level hockey, so we want to play the most competitive schedule we can,” Bustin said. “I think it keeps us sharp, it makes us play our best hockey and in four years, hopefully they leave here better hockey players because of not only what we do, but also because of the level of competition we play.”

The Blue Hens have dominated their competition to this point, with a 39-15 goal margin through eight games. Delaware’s current eight-game winning streak has set a new school record for most consecutive wins to begin a season. Even with a vital stretch approaching as the Blue Devils (5-3) will challenge ACC opponents in four of their next eight games, Bustin emphasized the “one-game-at-a-time” approach that has been a key in the early portion of their season.

“Right now our focus is Delaware, so we want to keep every game—conference or non-conference—[like] we’re going in to win it,” she said. “It’s just [about] keeping our composure under pressure. When teams have one or two key attacking individuals, we have to make sure that we are aware and pay attention to that, but allow our defense to absorb that attack and attack them back.”

Delaware’s potent offense is led by more than just Giezeman. Michaela Patzner, Esmee Peet and Meghan Winesett have each tallied at least five goals. They are also backed up by goalkeeper Emmeline Oltmans, who has started all eight games for the Blue Hens. With Oltmans allowing less than two goals per game and already recording two shutouts, the Blue Devils will have their work cut out for them, with yet another shot to blemish an opponent’s undefeated ledger.

With a relatively young squad, Bustin has relied heavily on the leadership of her four seniors and redshirt senior goalkeeper Lauren Blazing. The local product from Durham Academy has been the on-field leader for the team, saving 74.1 percent of shots faced during the 2015 campaign.

Friday’s matchup will provide yet another challenge for a Duke team that has already accomplished a great deal in the beginning portion of its season. Bustin said she believes that the obstacles faced in handling a difficult schedule will pay off for her team as it heads forward into the rest of ACC play.

“I don’t think there’s a better group of leaders for a team like this and they’ve been wonderful. They’ve been vocal when they’ve had to, they definitely lead by example, and I think as a coaching staff, we feel real confident with them handling things within the team,” Bustin said. “As long as your schedule is competitive, you’re probably going to be in a good position [for the ACC and NCAA tournaments.]”


Mitchell Gladstone | Sports Managing Editor

Twitter: @mpgladstone13

A junior from just outside Philadelphia, Mitchell is probably reminding you how the Eagles won the Super Bowl this year and that the Phillies are definitely on the rebound. Outside of The Chronicle, he majors in Economics, minors in Statistics and is working toward the PJMS certificate, in addition to playing trombone in the Duke University Marching Band. And if you're getting him a sandwich with beef and cheese outside the state of Pennsylvania, you best not call it a "Philly cheesesteak." 

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