Coming off their second Final Four in three years, the Blue Devils are back on the field looking to start the journey to Norfolk, Va.
Duke opened preseason practice Friday and will take on Davidson in a scrimmage Monday at 11 a.m. at Jack Katz Stadium. The Blue Devils, who return forwards Ashley Kristen and Heather Morris, are hoping to find a rhythm without three-time All-American goalkeeper Lauren Blazing ahead of their season opener against William and Mary Aug. 26. They crushed the Wildcats 8-0 in a scrimmage before the 2015 season.
Duke is breaking in two new assistant coaches, four freshmen and two graduate students.
“The staff has been very pleased with not only the level of excitement and anxiousness to get back on the field, but the level of play and the speed at which we’re playing for the first couple of days,” Blue Devil head coach Pam Bustin told GoDuke.com Friday. “We’ll see if we can maintain it, the goal is yes, but at least we’re starting off with that energy to set the standard and set the bar for us for the rest of the preseason.”
Duke, which finished last season 14-7 and 2-4 in the ACC, will take on North Carolina in a second home scrimmage Saturday. The Tar Heels have eliminated the Blue Devils from the postseason in each of the past two seasons and are part of a loaded ACC conference. Syracuse, North Carolina, Virginia and Duke finished with the top four RPI rankings last season.
With Blazing no longer between the pipes—senior Kelsey Wagner and sophomore Sammi Steele are expected to battle for the starting goalkeeper job—Morris will likely be looked to as a leader for the Blue Devils this year. The Pottstown, Pa., native led Duke with 26 points last year and scored 11 goals.
“I’m really hoping to bring a connectedness to the team and a little bit of leadership on the forward line,” Morris told GoDuke.com. “I’m really excited to share my knowledge and all that with the underclassmen and show everybody what I’ve been building up for the past three years, and all the skills I’ve acquired and all the hard work I’ve put in. I’m ready for everyone to see that and to lead through example.”
Duke's freshman will likely be expected to contribute right away, especially forward Margaux Paolino, who has competed with the U.S. U21 national team. Midfielders Haley Schleicher and Jillian Wolgemuth have also played internationally with the American U19 team. The Blue Devils also added defender Kirby Comizio as they look to replace the contributions of defenders Hannah Barreca and Amanda Kim and two-time All-American midfielder Aileen Johnson.
Two graduate students, defender Chessie Ruffell and midfielder and forward Aisling Naughton, come to Duke from Europe. Naughton is from Dublin, Ireland, and Ruffell is a native of Norfolk, England.
New players are not the only ones getting comfortable this preseason for Bustin's team. Her coaching staff now features Wesley Drew—who played at William and Mary and coached at Rutgers and her alma mater before coming to Durham—and Valerie Dahmen. Dahmen was Wake Forest's goalkeeper from 2013 to 2015.
“It’s been a change,” Bustin said. “[The new coaches] bring some new ideas, some fresh perspective, to the program and they’ve been wonderful in offering their ideas and offering their thoughts and insights into what they’re seeing in the last couple of days. The team has responded well.”
The Blue Devils will look to start their 2016 campaign on a high note against a team that went 8-11 last year, including 5-3 in the Atlantic 10.
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