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No. 10 Duke women's lacrosse hungry heading into regular-season opener against Drexel

<p>A preseason All-ACC selection, junior midfielder&nbsp;Maddie Crutchfield notched six assists in the team's scrimmage against Delaware.</p>

A preseason All-ACC selection, junior midfielder Maddie Crutchfield notched six assists in the team's scrimmage against Delaware.

After their earliest exit from the NCAA tournament in more than a decade last postseason, the Blue Devils are hungry to kick off their 2017 campaign.

And even though Duke returns seven of its 10 starters, the Blue Devils will have to get used to life without four-year goalkeeper Kelsey Duryea, a first-team All-ACC performer. 

No. 10 Duke will host Drexel at Koskinen Stadium Sunday at noon to start its regular season. The Blue Devils had to replace several stars on offense last offseason, and hope more continuity this year will help the team absorb Duryea's loss starting Sunday against the Dragons. 

“We obviously are veteran players and I think that helps,” senior defender Maura Schwitter said. “Especially having as many veterans as we do returning, that’s super special to this season and this team.”

That experience has contributed to Duke’s standing in the ACC this preseason. The Blue Devils were picked to finish fourth in the conference behind No. 1 North Carolina, No. 6 Syracuse and No. 8 Notre Dame. The Tar Heels retained their top spot after winning the national championship last season and also returning several key contributors. 

Unlike Duke, Drexel is coming off one of its better seasons and was selected to finish fifth in its conference in this season's preseason coaches poll.

The Dragons are coming off of a 10-7 season in which they tied for third in the CAA and made the conference tournament for the first time since 2013. Two of Drexel’s six returning starters—senior midfielder Eva Winiarski and junior attacker Nadia Pelham-Lacey— were named preseason All-CAA performers this week.

“This team is capable of holding teams to low scoring and executing really well offensively,” Blue Devil head coach Kerstin Kimel said. “That’s our focus for this coming week as we head into Drexel.”

Kimel's team opened the season with a scrimmage against Delaware Sunday at Koskinen Stadium, outscoring the Blue Hens 14-7 and maintaining possession for the majority of the game. Junior attacker Kyra Harney led the way for Duke with four goals with classmate Maddie Crutchfield contributing six assists. Crutchfield, a Concord, N.H., native, was a preseason All-ACC selection earlier in the week.

Some of the newest Blue Devils saw the field for the first time in their college careers Sunday. Freshmen Catherine Cordrey and Callie Humphrey started at midfield, with Lindsey Reynolds working her way into the rotation later in the game. The newcomers will look to get the opening-match jitters out of their system early Sunday, when the contests begin to count. 

“They’ve assimilated really well,” Schwitter said. “They kind of hit the ground running. We have some great players that saw the field today and I’m excited to see how they develop more throughout the season. They’re a great group.”

In addition to adjusting to new players on the field, Duke had to get acquainted with the shot clock, which was a new addition to women's college lacrosse this season. Teams now have 90 seconds from when they first begin their possession to get a shot off on the other end.

Not only does this result in a quicker game and a faster rotation on the offensive end, but it also forces teams to reevaluate how they clear the ball. With a new goalie in the net, the Blue Devils will certainly be making adjustments in the backfield early in the season. Sophomore Jamie Lockwood started in goal in the scrimmage, but freshman Gabbe Cadoux could also be in the mix for minutes this season as the team gets used to the rule change. 

“We used to be able to run the clock a little bit, especially if we were up, we would have the goalie hold the ball for a while,” Schwitter said. “This year we’re trying to get quick clears out so as soon as the goalie saves it, everyone tries to turn back to see who we can hit first.”

Although Duke has a lot to address before heading into the season, Kimel was happy with the team’s showing against Delaware. With a veteran roster and freshmen who have transitioned well to the college level, the Blue Devils head into their contest with Drexel ready to build toward a lengthy season.

The Blue Devils will have just less than a week from their contest with Drexel before their schedule starts to pick up. Duke will host Furman and Navy Feb. 10 and Feb. 12 before hitting the road to take on No. 12 Stanford in Frisco, Texas, Feb. 18.

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