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Duke field hockey set to take on top-10 competition at ACC/Big Ten Challenge

<p>Experienced goalkeeper Lauren Blazing will have to be a defensive stalwart once again for the Blue Devils if Duke is to knock off a pair of ranked opponents at the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.</p>

Experienced goalkeeper Lauren Blazing will have to be a defensive stalwart once again for the Blue Devils if Duke is to knock off a pair of ranked opponents at the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

Once a year, teams from the ACC and Big Ten come together for a weekend of rivalries, pride and tradition to determine field hockey bragging rights.

For the Blue Devils, the three-day event usually serves as an opportunity to get a look at NCAA tournament-quality competition in early September, and this year is no different.

No. 5 Duke will play No. 10 Northwestern at 7 p.m. Friday and No. 3 Maryland at 3 p.m. Sunday at at Spooky Nook Sports in Lancaster, Pa., as part of the annual ACC-Big Ten Challenge. The Blue Devils are no stranger to either of their opponents, having defeated the Terrapins 3-2 in the NCAA semifinals two years ago and beating the Wildcats 2-1 in the first round last season.

“Playing against this caliber of competition is something that we look forward to,” Duke head coach Pam Bustin said. “The team knows there’s a great challenge in what’s coming, but [facing top competition] is what we play for. We just have to make sure that we’re sharp and we’re ready to give them our game.”

To contend with the top of the Big Ten, the Blue Devils (1-1) will need more than history on their side, though—they will need discipline.

Duke enters the weekend coming off a heartbreaking loss to No. 6 Stanford that likely should have gone the other way.

Taking advantage of a momentary loss of focus by Duke in the 70th and final minute of regulation, the Cardinal beat the Blue Devil defense with a final, inspired attack and capitalized on a clear shot on goal to force overtime. With all the momentum in its corner, Stanford made swift work of Duke in the extra session, notching the golden goal in the 85th minute to hand the Blue Devils a stinging loss, one that has not been forgotten quickly.

“We’re all aware that we let that one get away from us,” Bustin said. “We had put ourselves in a position to earn a win and unfortunately didn’t preserve it.”

But after a strong practice Tuesday, Bustin said she is confident that her team will make the necessary adjustments ahead of Friday’s matchup with Northwestern (1-1).

“We will be successful if we keep the attacking mentality and keep finishing with and without the ball,” Bustin said. “We have to make sure we stay disciplined and make sure we stay [focused].”

A tenacious, attacking offense will be critical for Duke’s success this weekend, as Northwestern and Maryland both boast high-scoring offenses of their own.

After finishing last season with a 16-7 record and capturing the Big Ten crown, the Wildcats return a number of experienced players that will provide a good test for a young but maturing Blue Devil squad. Senior back Lisa McCarthy—a second-team All-America selection last year—anchors Northwestern’s defense and junior forward Isabel Flens returns as the team’s leading scorer.

Duke will have its hands full dealing with the Wildcat veterans on the field, but they hold the experience advantage in goal. The Blue Devils’ redshirt senior goalkeeper Lauren Blazing has started 63 games between the pipes, and Friday’s game will be just the third start for Northwestern redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Lindsay von der Luft.

It will be important for Duke to get its rest Saturday, because in Maryland (2-0) the Blue Devils will face their toughest opponent yet. A perennial top program—the Terrapins have begun the past 17 consecutive seasons ranked in the top three in the country—Maryland had the highest scoring average of any team last season at 4.0 goals per game.

The Terrapins appear poised to repeat that firepower this season, returning their leading scorer in senior defender Sarah Sprink, who has registered 11 shots through her first two games of the season.

“[In regards to playing Maryland], for us, it’s really about respecting their challenge…and staying focused on what we have to send them,” Bustin said. “The ACC and the Big Ten are two of the best conferences, so it’s fun to get out there and have a little bit of fun and a little bit of rivalry."

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