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The Chronicle's guide to Duke's 2016 fall sports teams

As part of The Chronicle's annual fall sports preview, our beat writers broke down each of Duke's five fall sports teams. Their thoughts and predictions can be found below.

Women's soccer

The Scoop

The Blue Devils have high aspirations after falling 1-0 to Penn State in last year's national championship game and bringing back 10 of 11 starters. Head coach Robbie Church's squad has depth thanks to three straight top-six recruiting classes and is using a 3-5-2 formation to create more scoring chances on the wing in 2016. If Duke can get hot at the right time, the Blue Devils have the talent to win the program's first national championship. 

Key Players

Defender Christina Gibbons—The unquestioned leader of the team is a first-team All-ACC defender, and has also had success coming forward early in her senior campaign. Gibbons and co-captain Lizzy Raben anchor Duke's backline in front of goalkeeper E.J. Proctor. 

Midfielder/forward Imani Dorsey—The former No. 3 recruit in the country finished the 2015 season with five goals, but she already has three and an assist through four contests in what could be a breakout junior campaign. Dorsey and Toni Payne will have to keep finding the back of the net for the Blue Devils to reach their goals.

Midfielder Taylor Racioppi—After deciding to skip the U20 World Cup this fall, the team's leader in points last year can play center or outside midfield or forward. Her ball control and awareness make the sophomore an essential part of Duke's offense.

Games to Watch

Sept. 2 vs. No. 8 North Carolina; Sept. 9 vs. No. 4 West Virginia; Oct. 15 vs. No. 3 Virginia; Oct. 20 at No. 1 Florida State


First in ACC, NCAA champions

—Jack Dolgin

Field hockey

The Scoop

After two final four appearances in three years, head coach Pam Bustin hopes her team can compete for a championship again in her sixth year at the helm. The No. 4 Blue Devils return a veteran offense led by Heather Morris and Ashley Kristen and added graduated students Chessie Ruffell and Aisling Naughton and a decorated recruiting class this offseason. However, Duke's defense will be a big question mark with sophomore Sammi Steele taking over between the pipes for All-American goalkeeper Lauren Blazing and the Blue Devils replacing two other defensive starters.

Key Players

Forward Heather MorrisDuke's leading scorer from a season ago returns, though she will no longer have the luxury of playing with All-American midfielder Aileen Johnson. Alongside Kristen, Morris will look to lead the Blue Devils through a brutal ACC schedule.

Goalkeeper Sammi Steele—Steele will see her first meaningful action this year and be expected to anchor Duke’s defense by communicating with the defenders in front of her. She has not been tested much through two games but will face some of the nation's best offenses in the coming weeks. 

Defender Alyssa Chillano—Despite being designated a defender, Chillano has proven her versatility, ranking fifth on the team last year in points, including four goals. The junior also led the team in defensive saves with six last year and should anchor a unit that lost Amanda Kim and Hannah Barreca.

Games to Watch

Sept. 9 against No. 5 Virginia; Sept. 25 at No. 1 North Carolina; Oct. 7 at No. 2 Syracuse; Oct. 22 vs. No. 1 North Carolina


Third in ACC, NCAA tournament recond round/quarterfinals

Sid Bhaskara

Men's soccer

The Scoop

 After a disappointing campaign in 2015, the Blue Devils are hoping a loaded freshman class and graduate student goalkeeper can inject life into a program that hasn’t made the NCAA tournament since 2011. 

Key Players

Goalkeeper Robert Moewes—The graduate transfer from Binghamton started each of the Blue Devils’ first two games, allowing just two goals

Defender Carter Manley—One of two Blue Devils to register a goal in the team’s exhibition games, the junior has both versatility, with the ability to play on both halves of the field, and experience. Those are qualities Duke’s defense lacked last year, finishing among the worst units in the ACC. 

Midfielder Suniel Veerakone—One of the Blue Devils’ touted freshman, Veerakone will look to help replace the production of stars Jeremy Ebobisse and Zach Mathers.

Games to Watch

Sept. 16 vs. No. 21 Wake Forest; Oct. 14 vs. No. 3 North Carolina; Oct. 21 vs. No. 4 Notre Dame


Fourth in the Coastal Division, seventh in the ACC, NCAA tournament first round

—Mitchell Gladstone


The Scoop

After missing the NCAA tournament for the first time in three years, the Blue Devils hope to get back near the top of the ACC standings in 2016. To do that, head coach Jolene Nagel's team will have to replace three-time All-American outside hitter Emily Sklar, who paced the team in kills from 2013 to 2015. 

Key Players

Middle blocker Jordan Tucker—As one of the team's co-captains last year, Tucker finished the season strong and was second on the team behind Sklar in kills. The senior will need to step up with more leadership responsibility this year and pick up where she left off to help a young Duke team.

Libero/defensive specialist Sasha Karelov—Another senior, Karelov ranked second in the ACC in digs per set last year and will need to use her experience as a three-year starter to anchor the Blue Devil defense this season.

Middle blocker Leah Meyer—Meyer was named to the All-ACC Freshman Team last year, and at 6-foot-3, has the chance to post another standout campaign in 2016. Meyer led the team in hitting percentage and blocks per set last year.

Games to Watch

Sept. 1 against No. 19 North Carolina; Oct. 2 at. No. 23 Louisville; Nov. 18 vs. No. 17 Florida State; Nov. 23 at No. 19 North Carolina


Fifth in ACC, NCAA tournament first round

—James Li

Cross country

The Scoop

The Blue Devils will look to replace top runners Shaun Thompson and Anima Banks with a talented freshmen class. On the women’s side, Duke will be led by new head coach Rhonda Riley, who brings with her a wealth of experience and success as the former coach at Vanderbilt. The men’s team will look to its solid group of middle-distance runners to lead the way and find new contributors from a freshmen class that has head coach Norm Ogilvie as excited as ever.

Key Players

Madison Granger—The graduate student is the only runner on the women’s roster that is not a freshman or sophomore and her leadership will be huge for the team this season. Granger will look to build on her All-America honorable mention honor in the 1,500 meters this spring with another solid year on the course.

Alec Kunzweiler—The senior figures to be one of Duke’s top scorers this season after earning second-team All-ACC honors on the track. Kunzweiler excels in middle distance events and should help keep the Blue Devils competitive on the course without Thompson.

Sophia Parvizi-Wayne—The freshman hails from London and has been a standout in practice to date. At 5-foot-11, Wayne is taller than the average distance runner, but has proven to be the real deal during her earlier international competitions.

Races to Watch

Sycamore Invitational Sep. 10, Royals Challenge Oct. 7

Mitchell Gladstone | Sports Managing Editor

Twitter: @mpgladstone13

A junior from just outside Philadelphia, Mitchell is probably reminding you how the Eagles won the Super Bowl this year and that the Phillies are definitely on the rebound. Outside of The Chronicle, he majors in Economics, minors in Statistics and is working toward the PJMS certificate, in addition to playing trombone in the Duke University Marching Band. And if you're getting him a sandwich with beef and cheese outside the state of Pennsylvania, you best not call it a "Philly cheesesteak." 


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