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Duke field hockey faces tough task against top-15 Big Ten foes

Goalkeeper Sammi Steele will look to extend her shutout streak, but will have to slow down a pair of strong attacks to do so.
Goalkeeper Sammi Steele will look to extend her shutout streak, but will have to slow down a pair of strong attacks to do so.


Fresh off their second straight season-opening win against William & Mary, Duke hopes to continue to recreate last season’s success against the same three opponents with two statement wins, as the Blue Devils face their first two of 14 teams on their schedule who were ranked heading into the season.

No. 2 Duke will return to Spooky Nook Sports in Lancaster, Pa., Friday for the third installment of the Big Ten/ACC Cup against No. 6 Maryland Friday at 7 p.m. and No. 14 Northwestern Sunday at 11 a.m. No. 12 Boston College will also be representing the ACC. The Blue Devils have defeated the Terrapins in their last three meetings, including two at the Big Ten/ACC Cup, and hold the series edge against the Wildcats, 5-3, including 2-1 on neutral turf. 

“It’s great competition, and it’s a great tournament to have the second week. The first game or so you’ve been able to work out a few things and then kind of amp it up a little bit,” Duke head coach Pam Bustin said. “They’ve always been really close tight games, so it’s really good training.”

The Blue Devils enter this weekend’s slate of games riding high after a stellar all-around effort in their season-opening 5-0 win against the Tribe last Friday. Duke dominated both ends of the field at William & Mary, allowing only two shots on goal while also spreading the ball around on offense, as eight players finished with at least one point.

“To continue the consistency of our play [is] always a challenge. When you have a good performance, the expectations are high, and so what are we thinking in executing that? Is it our expectation to continue and are we able to be consistent?” Bustin said. “Every day is a new day, but we definitely have the experience and the talent to play that way.”

As they pivot towards a pair of more formidable Big Ten opponents this weekend, the Blue Devils will need to continue that same level of play against their first ranked opponents of the season. Duke (1-0) got off to a slow start against William and Mary, largely on the strength of seven early saves by the Tribe defense, but erupted for four goals in the second period to run away with the victory. 

Seniors Alyssa Chillano and Ashley Kristen, Duke’s top returning scorers from last season, will have their hands full against a Maryland defense anchored by back senior Carrie Hanks, named a Big Ten Player to Watch last week. The Terrapins (1-0) gave up just one goal in their season-opening win against St. Joseph’s and only two shots in the entire game. And if last season’s matchup between the two teams, which the Blue Devils eventually won 1-0 in overtime, is any indication, taking advantage of every scoring opportunity will be key.

Against Northwestern, Duke’s offense will meet another difficult opponent in goalkeeper Annie Kalfas—owner of a .850 save percentage through three games this season. The Wildcats (2-1) have two shutouts to their credit already this season, including a 1-0 win against No. 13 Stanford, but also surrendered seven goals in a blowout loss at No. 4 Connecticut.

“The majority of [our approach] is definitely working on what we have to do, what we want to improve on, [and] make sure we’re accentuating our strengths, because that’s going to keep you in ballgames,” Bustin said. “That’s the most important thing, and if you have a little bit of knowledge on some certain key players or different tendencies that an opponent has, that can help in decision making.”

On the other end of the field, Duke’s defense will have its mettle tested Friday against experienced players such as junior forward Linnea Gonzales and senior midfielder Lein Holsboer, who was recognized with NFHCA Third-Team All-America honors last season. Redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Sammi Steele was stellar in shutting down the Terps last season, recording a career-high nine saves in Duke’s shutout victory. 

Northwestern is led on offense by a pair of senior midfielders in Sophia Miller, an All-Big Ten first team selection last season, and Elena Curley, who along with Miller and top returning goal scorer Pascale Massey, was named a Big Ten Player to Watch this season. Massey notched one of the Wildcats’ two goals in their overtime loss to the Blue Devils last year. 

The game will also be a homecoming of sorts for players from all three teams, including six on Duke’s roster from Pennsylvania. Spooky Nook Sports is the home of USA Field Hockey, and the location of the USA Field Hockey’s Young Women’s National Championship in June featuring nine Blue Devils, making Duke the most-represented school of the event. 

“We decided to do this tournament at the Nook just because one we want to support our national team, and be at the home of hockey,” Bustin said. “Amongst the four teams, so many of [the players] are from the state of Pennsylvania or even southern New Jersey, so it’s exciting for all four teams to bring their teams back.”