After a pair of offensive explosions to start the season, the Blue Devils will take their talents on the road for the first time this year.
No. 4 Duke will travel to the home of USA Field Hockey in Lancaster, Pa., to play two consecutive ranked opponents in the Big Ten/ACC Cup—No. 6 Maryland Friday at 7 p.m. and No. 16 Northwestern Sunday at 11 a.m. Both games will take place at the Spooky Nook Sports Complex. In the same event last season, Duke took down the Terrapins and Wildcats with one-goal victories, and after outscoring William and Mary and then-No. 13 Liberty by a combined score of 12-4 the Blue Devils hope to continue their early-season momentum.
“Getting the first weekend under our belt with some good scoring and some good development for our entire team gave us a lot of energy,” Duke head coach Pam Bustin said. “[We] have a lot more focus for this week’s preparation.”
Although they will face two top-20 opponents 40 hours apart, the Blue Devils (2-0) are poised to match up well after scoring the most goals in an opening weekend since 2003. Duke's depth was the catalyst, with a slew of veterans and newcomers racking up big numbers.
Senior forward Heather Morris already has seven points on three goals and an assist, and graduate transfer Aisling Naughton has added five points of her own. Freshman Margaux Paolino made a big splash as well, racking up four assists in her first two games. In addition to creating scoring chances in the open field, Duke has capitalized on set pieces, notching five goals on penalty corners last weekend.
For as efficient as the offense has been to begin the season, the defense has been equally steady. In just her second collegiate start, sophomore goalkeeper Sammi Steele posted a clean sheet, in large part because of the defense in front of her. Defensive captains Alyssa Chillano and Sarah Furey helped ensure that Steele saw only two shots on goal all game, with the unit snuffing out eight penalty corners.
Chillano, despite being listed as a defender, has added five points to the team total as well, helping the Blue Devils turn defense into offense with quick transitions.
“This is probably the deepest team I’ve ever had,” Bustin said. “[It] is exciting because there’s been some amazing, great teams but just as far as the interchange is concerned and keeping up our standard of play, this entire group can make that happen.”
Strength on both sides of the ball will once again be a key for Duke, particularly against Maryland. The Terrapins (1-1) are familiar with the Blue Devil offense, having dropped an overtime battle last year and played Duke for years in ACC games. Two of the last three matchups between the Blue Devils and the Terrapins have gone to overtime, though Maryland leads the all-time series 32-10-3.
Despite an early 4-1 loss this year to No. 2 Syracuse, Maryland is still dangerous, with forwards Linnea Gonzales and Welma Luus giving the Terrapins two third-team All-Americans to build around. Gonzales was also named Big Ten Freshman of the Year last year and gives defenders fits with her speed.
Northwestern presents a slightly less intimidating challenge, but not by much. The Wildcats (1-1) are coming off a 5-0 victory against Massachusetts after dropping their season opener to Boston University, and hope to bring their momentum to Lancaster.
The roster that Duke will face Sunday is very different from the one it defeated 2-1 last year. Northwestern graduated 10 seniors from last year’s team but still features enough veteran talent to be competitive led by upperclassmen midfielders Isabel Flens, Dominique Masters and Elena Curley, who were all tabbed preseason Big Ten Players to Watch.
In addition to playing two games during the weekend, Duke, Boston College, Northwestern and Maryland will be conducting a clinic through USA Field Hockey for young players in the Pennsylvania area—which is home to eight of the 24 Blue Devils.
“[We’re] changing the things we need to change to become stronger, more consistent and better,” Bustin said. “These two games will give us the perfect opportunity to really hone in on those things and they’ll matter, so it’s a good chance for us to just get better.”
Amrith Ramkumar contributed reporting.
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