Fresh off a successful weekend at the B1G/ACC Cup, in which the Blue Devils scored victories over then-No. 10 Northwestern and then-No. 3 Maryland, Duke will look to keep its momentum going while playing within the friendly confines of East Campus for the first time this season.
As the No. 4 Blue Devils ready for their regular season home opener, a 6 p.m. match against No. 12 Wake Forest at Jack Katz Stadium Friday followed by a 1 p.m. game Sunday against William & Mary, they received news that not one, but two Duke players garnered ACC Field Hockey Player of the Week honors for their performances against the Wildcats and Terrapins in Lancaster, Pa. Seniors Aileen Johnson and Amanda Kim—two of the squad's three captains—swept the awards, with Johnson winning Offensive Player of the Week and Kim winning Defensive Player of the Week.
“They deserve it, they earned it. We had a real competitive weekend with Northwestern and Maryland,” head coach Pam Bustin said. “Both [Johnson] and [Kim] really stepped up as leaders. Great performances by each of them.”
The Blue Devils, having climbed up one spot in the latest rankings, enter Friday’s match with the same record as the Demon Deacons. Both teams are 3-1 and have each both won and lost an overtime contest. Wake Forest claimed the ACC championship in 2014 and return 17 players from the title-winning roster.
“[We have been preparing for Wake Forest] by continuing to improve our style of play, and what we want to get out of our structure in different situations—just to continue to get better,” Bustin said. “There are definitely some areas we need to improve on, especially against dangerous teams like Wake Forest.”
Duke is no stranger to the Demon Deacons. In addition to being conference rivals who face off every year, the Blue Devils hosted Wake Forest in a preseason scrimmage earlier this year. In the scrimmage, a head-to-hand standard format match consisting of two 35-minute halves, the Blue Devils came out on top, 2-0. Junior forward Heather Morris and sophomore midfielder Alyssa Chillano recorded goals in the first half to propel Duke to the victory.
“Being able to scrimmage at that level at that time really helped our development,” Bustin said. “However, both teams have evolved and changed since our scrimmage. We have played four games since then, and we are both going to be coming against a better opponent.… It’s an old rivalry, a conference matchup and it always brings another level of intensity and competitiveness.”
If the Blue Devils wish to topple the reigning ACC champions again, they will need to get past senior goalkeeper Valerie Dahmen. The Duisberg, Germany, native has started every game for Wake Forest since her sophomore year and shut out Syracuse in the ACC championship last season.
“We always want to improve our offense,” Bustin said. “The more we continue to improve our midfield play, getting the connection between the midfield and the forward lines happening, the more scoring opportunities will be presented to us.”
Duke has its own formidable last line of defense, though, as redshirt senior goalkeeper Lauren Blazing has been between the pipes for 65 consecutive games and received second-team All-American honors last year. The Durham native and team captain has also recorded 25 saves in Duke's first four games of the year.
Following the match against the Demon Deacons, the Blue Devils will take on William & Mary Sunday. The Tribe (3-1) have recorded wins against St. Francis, Ohio and Central Michigan.
“We are really focused in improving our game,” Bustin said. “We will practice again on Saturday to tweak some important things that will be specific for William & Mary…. Overall, our game plan is going to be how we want to play.”
Adhering to that game plan could give Duke a chance to follow up one successful weekend with another. Bustin's team has the opportunity to collect two more wins, including one against a conference opponent that could come into play in the conference standings later down the road.
“My expectations are for us to play with intensity for the full 70 minutes or however long it takes for us to come home with a victory,” Bustin said. “Our mentality is to be strong for each play that we are involved in on Friday and Sunday. Mental toughness and focus is going to be important this weekend.”
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Jacob Weiss is a Trinity senior. His column, "not jumping to any conclusions," runs on alternate Fridays.