In February 2015, striker Kelci Smesko underwent surgery following to a hip injury, forcing her to the sidelines for the entire season and the Blue Devils' first trip to the Final Four since 2011.

But with rehab a memory in the past, the Ridgewood, N.J., native is now ready to make a huge impact and leave her own mark in the Blue Devil attack.

After posting a hat trick in a 12-6 win against then-No. 13 Pennsylvania, Smesko will look to propel No. 15 Duke to its first conference win Saturday when the Blue Devils take on Virginia Tech at Thompson Field in Blacksburg, Va., at 1 p.m. The Blue Devils have not lost any of their seven games played in Blacksburg, and will look to continue that streak in their ACC opener.

“It’s amazing to be back. I couldn’t be happier,” Smesko said. “I’ve learned a lot and I’m a believer that everything happens for a reason. It happened and it’s in the past, so I’ve just moved forward. I don’t really think about it when I play and I’m really grateful for it all worked out.”

Duke (3-3) will rely on the explosive duo of Smesko and sophomore striker Kyra Harney, who have combined for 29 of the Blue Devils’ 69 goals this spring. With a Blue Devil senior class that netted 70 percent of last year’s total long gone after graduation, the attacking duo has stepped into leadership roles in the offensive third of the pitch. Smesko and Harney have also been among Duke's top facilitators, combining for 15 feeds and scooping up 14 ground balls so far this season.

The two Blue Devils have a potent weapon alongside in a rookie who is stealing the spotlight this season. In her first year wearing a Duke uniform, freshman attacker Olivia Jenner has already found the back of the net 10 times and has registered 36 of the team’s 76 draw controls.

Defensively, junior goalkeeper Kelsey Duryea will have the difficult task of trying to stop Hokie midfielders Tristan McGinley and Kristine Loscalzo, who are tied for fifth nationally with 17 goals apiece. But Virginia Tech may have a hard time getting past Duryea, who averages 3.7 ground balls and 8.7 saves per contest—the best marks in the ACC. 

“Meeting our first ACC team is an exciting part of the season, so coming out strong, scoring the first few goals and setting the tone for the game will be crucial,” Smesko said. “Staying focused for the entire 60 or plus minutes, being first in every ground ball and executing well on offense will be really important for us.”

The Hokies (5-3) dismantled Gardner-Webb 18-1 Feb. 7 and Radford 17-2 Feb. 24, but fell to the only ranked team they have battled this year—an 18-5 decision against then-No. 20 James Madison.

After a tough 7-6 defeat against Elon Feb. 25 at Koskinen Stadium, the Blue Devils' bounce-back victory against the Quakers boosted their confidence and served as a stiff test before opening conference action.

“Sunday was a great chance to be able to redeem ourselves and focus on the next opponent but also not to dwell on the mistakes that we made [against Elon],” Smesko said. “After watching film, we knew what we did wrong and what made the difference is that we flipped the switch and went into Sunday’s game with a clean head and just ready to focus on what we had to do differently in order to come out on top.”