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Duke field hockey begins ACC tournament action against Virginia

<p>Sophomore Alyssa Chillano and the Blue Devils will look for payback against a Virginia squad that beat Duke earlier in the regular season in Thursday morning's first round of the ACC tournament.</p>

Sophomore Alyssa Chillano and the Blue Devils will look for payback against a Virginia squad that beat Duke earlier in the regular season in Thursday morning's first round of the ACC tournament.

Duke is locked and loaded and ready to take on the gauntlet that is the ACC postseason tournament. 

The fourth-ranked Blue Devils travel up to Charlottesville, Va., Thursday to take on fifth-ranked Virginia in the first round of the ACC tournament. The game takes place at 11 a.m. at the University Hall Turf Fields. Duke arrives as the No. 5 seed in the tournament, playing against the No. 4 seed Cavaliers. The winner will advance to take on top-seeded Syracuse Friday at 1 p.m.

The Blue Devils finished the regular season on a high note, with a 3-2 overtime win against nonconference foe Liberty. This momentum will help Duke in the ACC tournament, as they will be matching up against some of the best teams in the nation.

“The closer the game and the more the kids have to dig in to find their flow and get their game, the better prepared you are going to be going into the post-season,” Duke head coach Pam Bustin told “We have definitely had that in our last couple weeks of competition, and we feel pretty good about where we are entering the ACC post-season.”

Bustin’s squad should be prepared for the matchup with Virginia Thursday. The defensive back line has held opponents to two goals or fewer in the past 10 contests and senior goalkeeper Lauren Blazing ranks fifth in the country in save percentage with a rate of .81. Sophomore back Alyssa Chillano leads the ACC in defensive saves with four, and her stout presence will be needed against an attacking Cavalier offense.

“Individual defense is going to make our defense as a whole work well together," Chillano told “Everybody is working hard to do their job and we can work as a unit to outlet the ball and get it up field.”

Chillano and her defensive unit will have their hands full, with Virginia—which boasts two of the top assisters in the country in Lucy Hyams and Tara Vittese. They come in with momentum on their side as well, having beaten James Madison 2-0 in their regular season finale.

In the regular season meeting of the two squads, Duke converted a pair of penalty corners in the second half but could not overcome an early three-goal deficit. The Blue Devils’ Ashley Kristen and Hannah Barreca each had one goal a piece. The Cavaliers (13-3, 3-3) had plenty of opportunities, with 14 shots on goal—a sign the Chillano-led defense will need to make adjustments heading into Thursday.

“If we start with our tempo right away, then Duke controls the game," Chillano said.  "We can’t let them put their pressure on us.”

Duke (12-5) has prepared all season for the pressure-cooker that is the ACC tournament, having played 15 top-15 opponents in 18 games. With the nation’s third-strongest RPI, Coach Bustin’s squad has proved themselves this season to the nation. The Blue Devils have also played 10 out of 17 games on the road this fall, making the trip up to Charlottesville nothing out of the ordinary.

Duke’s seniors are especially pumped up going into the ACC tournament, eager to build on the success that last year’s NCAA tournament brought them. Last year, the Blue Devils lost in the second round to North Carolina, and the senior class is hungry for more postseason action against Virginia.

“Honestly, I couldn’t ask more from a senior class as far as the consistency and having the Duke pride that we talk about,” Bustin said. “You can see it in their eyes, they are ready to play. I hope that they can really enjoy the postseason in a way they deserve because of what they have done for our program the past four years.”


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