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Second-ranked Duke field hockey prepares to host rare unranked foe in Old Dominion

Goalkeeper Sammi Steele has helped Duke have the sixth-best goals against average in the nation.
Goalkeeper Sammi Steele has helped Duke have the sixth-best goals against average in the nation.

After a convincing home debut pushed the Blue Devils up two spots in the rankings, No. 2 Duke will look to build on its dominance last weekend in its third game at home.

The Blue Devils capably dispatched then-No. 11 Louisville 5-0 before capping off the weekend with a 2-1 triumph against then-No. 15 Princeton. As the season begins to hit its stride following three weeks on the road to start, Duke welcomes Old Dominion to Jack Katz Stadium Sunday at 1 p.m. With the bulk of their schedule still to play, the Blue Devils will have to stay vigilant Sunday to avoid an upset. 

“If you’re experiencing success as far as win-loss, you sometimes can forget the process,” head coach Pam Bustin said. “But I don’t think that’s happening. We’re very critical of ourselves, especially the team, after games, win or loss. We’re constantly trying to improve and be better than the team we were the day before.”

This weekend, that challenge takes the shape of the Monarchs (4-4), who enter Sunday’s contest a week removed from a 6-0 trouncing at the hands of No. 1 Connecticut. Duke (6-1) should have its way with Old Dominion on offense, particularly when it comes to amassing corners. The Monarchs have surrendered more than 50 corners so far this season, nearly double the 29 corners their offense has generated. The main task for the Blue Devils is converting on those opportunities—an area in which the team has struggled this season. Duke has scored just two goals on its 43 corner attempts this season, a surprising figure given the team’s relative offensive potency. 

In the three games since the team’s one hiccup this season—a 4-1 defeat to Virginia—the team has amassed 10 goals spread across six different scorers. 

“We were a bit frustrated and upset with ourselves after the Virginia game that we did create some opportunities attack-wise but we didn’t recognize them and take advantage of them,” Bustin said. “Ever since then, we’ve wanted to bring more confidence to our attack, practice with that kind of confidence and execute. We’ve been getting better and better at that.”

More impressive than the offensive turnaround is the way the defense has responded after conceding multiple goals for the first time this season to the Cavaliers. Led by senior Alyssa Chillano, the Blue Devils have allowed just two goals in their last three contests, en route to the sixth-best goals against average in the nation. Much of that success can be attributed to redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Sammi Steele’s consistency in net. Since taking over last season, Steele has started every game for Duke, and, so far this year, has made 25 saves to go along with a 0.9 goals against average. 

Chillano and Steele will have their hands full with sophomore Erin Huffman and redshirt sophomore Alexa Ostoich. Huffman and Ostoich account for 11 of the Monarchs' 22 goals this season. Old Dominion tends to start fast offensively—15 of its 22 goals have been in the first half of play. Duke will have to start quickly and match the Monarchs' pace of play in order to avoid conceding a goal early.   

With only one game this weekend as opposed to the usual two, the Blue Devils have the opportunity to build on last weekend’s momentum in one of their few games against an unranked opponent. 

Duke travels to Boston next weekend with two tilts against top-25 teams, including an ACC matchup against No. 8 Boston College. For now, however, the focus is on Old Dominion.

“Right now it’s all about taking things one day at a time and not looking too far ahead,” Bustin said. “And I think that’s the most important thing—staying in the moment and taking care of the challenge right in front of us.”

Ted Arthur contributed reporting.


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