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Duke field hockey looks to prove it deserves to be top-5 team in opening weekend

Sammi Steele was one of the best goalkeepers in the nation for Duke last season.
Sammi Steele was one of the best goalkeepers in the nation for Duke last season.

 

For the fifth straight season, Duke has been ranked in the top five of the National Field Hockey Coaches Association preseason poll.

If the Blue Devils hope to prove they deserve the No. 3 spot, they will need to overcome two top-25 opponents on opening weekend in William & Mary and Liberty. Duke will open its season at home against the No. 22 Tribe Friday evening before returning to Jack Katz Stadium Sunday afternoon to play the No. 23 Flames.

"I think everybody is really excited for opening day. They are just really excited to take all the practice and all the days that we have had together and start the season and to do it at home means a lot to us," head coach Pam Bustin said. "We have a heavy road schedule this year so opening up here at home after two and a half weeks of preseason is really exciting. I am sure there are a lot of butterflies and a lot of nerves today, but that is a good thing."

The Blue Devils return six starters and 14 letter-winners from the 2017 squad that bowed out in the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament as a part of a 17-4 season, finishing No. 2 in the final poll. 

"It is a new group. I think the strength of last year's senior class on and off the field has been such a gift to this program over the years and you never know what kind of void is going to be left behind," Bustin said. "But I think the upperclassmen have worked so hard this spring to prepare for the season as leaders and to prepare themselves to lead the team on the field by improving their play. We have brought in six incredibly talented freshman and a graduate student and everyone has gelled wonderfully and I am really excited for the level of depth we have."

The team is headlined by senior forward Rose Tynan and junior midfield/forward Margaux Paolino. The former was named to the ACC second-team last year while the latter received a first-team nod, with both chosen to the preseason All-ACC team this year. With Tynan heading the attack with 17 goals and 39 points in 2017, Duke returns about 55 percent of its scoring. Meanwhile, Paolino benefited from playing for the U.S. women’s national team over the summer as a part of the World Cup, scoring two goals in three games. 

Debuting against William & Mary has become somewhat common for the Blue Devils, who have beaten the Tribe in all three openers. In last year’s opening day, Duke shut out William & Mary 5-0, starting a run of three straight clean sheets. Tynan had two goals while the Tribe were limited to just two shots, pushing the Blue Devils’ overall ledger against the CAA opponent to 26-8-1. 

If Duke hopes to continue its success against William & Mary, it will need to control the midfield with junior midfielders Christie van de Kamp and Cassidy Goodwin earning preseason CAA all-conference honors.

"They [William & Mary] have some key returning players and return a lot of talent. They are a team that is persistent. They are going to be in the game from start to finish. That is going to really test our attention and force us to stay on point from the beginning to the end," Bustin said. "I think the midfield battle is going to be awesome. I am very proud of our midfield level that we have seen so far this season. It is going to be a great battle where both of our strengths lie."

There will be no rest for the Blue Devils following Friday’s contest, with less than a 48-hour turnaround before they face off against Liberty. Meeting for just the fifth time, Duke is undefeated against the Flames, coming away victorious 4-3 in overtime on the road last year thanks to a game-winning goal from Tynan.

The Blue Devils will need to maintain their poise against an experienced Liberty squad, which is returning 86.7 percent of its scoring. The Flames are led by senior forward Agueda Moroni and sophomore midfielder Jill Bolton—both of whom were named to the All-Big East team and will test the Duke defense.

"Liberty is an experienced and very dynamic squad. They have their scoring power coming back with another year of experience," Bustin said. "It is going to be an incredible challenge for us which is awesome to do again after a great game on Friday. We will have a lot of great stuff to review after the weekend to help improve our game."

After the opening weekend, the Blue Devils will have time to regroup before heading to College Park, Md., as a part of the Big 10/ACC Challenge, where they will face No. 12 Northwestern and No. 4 Maryland.

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