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Deep No. 4 Duke field hockey squad set for regular season opener Friday against William and Mary

<p>Junior Alyssa Chillano hopes to lead a Duke back line adjusting to a new goalkeeper and multiple new starters.</p>

Junior Alyssa Chillano hopes to lead a Duke back line adjusting to a new goalkeeper and multiple new starters.

With two preseason scrimmages already under their belt, the Blue Devils hope to live up to their top-five ranking with just two weeks before their first ACC test.

No. 4 Duke opens its season at home against William and Mary Friday at 6 p.m. before hosting Liberty Sunday at 1 p.m. at Jack Katz Stadium. The Blue Devils crushed Davidson 13-0 before falling 3-2 to No. 1 North Carolina in preseason play, allowing many of their newcomers to face top-quality competition before their first official game. 

“We were really pleased with a few things [in the scrimmages]—our speed of execution, [and] our depth on the roster is something that we’re really excited about,” Duke head coach Pam Bustin said.

The Blue Devils rotated players heavily throughout the two scrimmages, a trend that will likely continue in the regular season as they try to make their third Final Four in four years. Duke added four highly-touted freshmen and two graduate students, and the group wasted no time making their mark this summer. 

Two freshmen started in the team’s scrimmage against the Tar Heels, and graduate student Aisling Naughton tallied one of Duke’s two goals on the day.

The Blue Devil offense will run through senior Heather Morris, the team's leading scorer last season. The Pottstown, Pa., native said she spent the offseason in her home state training with some of the country’s best players to improve her individual skills. Now she hopes to translate those skills to a leadership role on the field.

“I like to think I’m an organizer,” Morris said. “Being here for a long time, I know our press very well, and I know what we do, so I think that won’t change much, but depending on other stuff, the season will tell.”

A 26-point scorer last year, Morris should get plenty of feeds from junior forward Ashley Kristen, who led the team in assists last season. Morris will also try to work with freshmen Margaux Paolino and Jillian Wolgemuth—who each scored during the preseason—to keep opposing defenses off balance. 

“Her experience and hockey knowledge is very good,” Bustin said. “For her to be able to keep her composure and to keep her pace of the game high and to keep her moving the ball—that’s when she’s most dangerous.”

The Tribe enters 2016 without two of its top four scorers from last season but added seven new freshmen in the offseason. William and Mary comes to Durham hoping to avenge last season’s 6-2 loss to the Blue Devils.

“They’re always a hardworking team,” Bustin said. “It’s going to be a great challenge for us to keep that up and hopefully get the momentum in our favor.”

After its Friday opener, Duke will turn to welcome the Flames as they travel from a road opener at No. 19 James Madison. Liberty had a dominant offense last season, scoring 4.4 goals per game.

The Flames may have lost some offensive momentum with the graduations of Natalie Barr and Ashlee Krulock, who both had 14 goals last season, but Barr’s younger twin sisters each managed eight apiece and will look to increase that production as seniors in 2016.

For the Blue Devils, an efficient opponent spelled trouble in the scrimmage against the Tar Heels, who were able to convert 3-of-11 penalty corners into goals. Duke will need to avoid more mistakes in the defensive shooting circle should the Flames look to get their high-powered offense going again Sunday. 

“We need to make sure that we clean up things on both circles,” Bustin said. “Cleaning it up so we’re not giving our opponents opportunities that we create—make them earn them.”

Sameer Pandhare contributed reporting.


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