Coming off a second straight disappointing NCAA tournament loss, the Blue Devils will look to make their offseason work pay off starting this weekend.
Duke—which finished the season at No. 14 last year after blowing a 2-0 lead against Texas in the NCAA tournament second round—will open the season at the Duke Bonk Invitational at the Cary Tennis Park in Cary, N.C. Friday through Sunday. Individuals from five teams that finished 2015-16 in the top 20 will play at the individual event, which will feature six top-50 individuals and 12 in the top 125 nationally.
The Blue Devils made it to the third round of the NCAA tournament for eight straight years before second-round exits in 2015 and 2016, and as a result made several changes to their program this offseason.
“We’ve overhauled our entire conditioning program. We’ve changed what we're doing and how we're doing [and] how we are approaching it," Duke head coach Jamie Ashworth said. "We have spent a lot of time in the offseason and early this season since they have been on campus really focusing on conditioning and not as much on the hitting side of things."
The Blue Devils lost senior star Beatrice Capra—who missed most of the season due to injuries—but otherwise bring back almost their entire roster in 2016-17.
Senior Chalena Scholl, the 40th-ranked singles player in the country, leads Duke into its first event after finishing last season by playing No. 1 singles. The only other senior on the Blue Devils' roster, Alyssa Smith, will also compete this weekend and will team with Scholl in doubles as well.
Two other Duke doubles tandems will look to start the season on a high note—junior Rebecca Smaller and redshirt sophomore Christina Makarova and sophomore Ellyse Hamlin and freshman Meible Chi.
Chi will make her Blue Devil debut, and comes to Duke as a top-10 recruit. Although Chi has yet to play a college match, she and Hamlin comprise Duke's highest-ranked doubles team in national preseason rankings, coming in at No. 39.
“We have a new combination with [Ellyse] Hamlin playing with our freshman Meible Chi, so that’s something I definitely want to see," Ashworth said. "Ultimately, it's being competitive and doing the right things in competitive moments.”
All of the Blue Devil doubles players will compete individually as well, giving Duke a chance to start building toward its team-oriented spring season.
“Our practices have been really efficient and really clean so far this semester," Ashworth said. "Conditioning is not going to be a factor for our team this year. We're not going to lose matches because we are not in good shape or good form.... There is a lot of excitement building through our conditioning program that hopefully transfers to the court."
Sam Turken contributed reporting.
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