Duke heads to the fourth annual Big Ten/ACC Cup looking to stay undefeated in the competition.
The early-season tournament has historically been a litmus for the Blue Devils, with every matchup thus far boasting a top-15 tilt.
This year will be no different as No. 3 Duke travels to College Park, Md., to play No. 12 Northwestern Friday afternoon before competing in its first true road game Sunday afternoon against No. 4 Maryland at the Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex.
The weekend offers an opportunity for the Blue Devil freshmen to continue their strong play and the upperclassmen on the team to avenge a heartbreaking 3-2 loss to the Terrapins in the 2017 NCAA Tournament semifinals, where the Terps score two goals in the final 10 minutes.
“The face of our team has changed quite a bit with the graduation of six very strong and important seniors and for Maryland they have added a very talented player to its roster from overseas,” Bustin said. “I think they are going to be very strong. I think for us it is a matter of playing our game and seeing where we match up with a team that has so much international experience and having such a good year last year.”
Starting off against the Wildcats (1-1), Duke will look to repeat the strong defensive play that led the team to two shutout victories in the cup last year. Led by Jilian Wolgemuth–who received Co-Defensive Player of the Week honors for her performance on the backline last weekend–the defense will look to hone in on limiting Wildcat attacker Puck Pentenga.
The Dutch senior had a goal in Northwestern’s 4-2 loss to No. 1 Connecticut and three assists in its 3-2 double-overtime victory over No. 15 Stanford. With Pentenga’s ability to both score and create opportunities for her teammates, the Blue Devil defense will have their hands full in limiting such a dynamic player.
“Set pieces and penalty corners are all their goals,” Bustin said. “Puck can really hit the ball hard, so for us it is really just to be disciplined and set in our corner defense and hopefully on the flip side, make some defensive plays outside the circle so that we are not giving up so many defensive corners.”
On the offensive side of the ball, Duke (2-0) had contributions from freshmen Leah Crouse, Kiki Rozemeijer and Olivia Sahaydak in addition to seven other goal-scorers to contributed to the eight tallies against William & Mary and Liberty. With the younger players able to produce early and often and proven scorers such as Rose Tynan and Margaux Paolino keeping the pressure up, the Blue Devils will look to put the Wildcats’ goalie rotation of Annie Kalfas and Florien Marcussen out of rhythm.
“It is a very talented freshmen group and a very goal-oriented focused freshmen group. We were all hoping that they would have some on-field contributions right away just because they can,” Bustin said. “I think they were able to have such positive gameday contributions because the rest the team has embraced them and we are really learning how to play together. Everybody is just really supportive and excited about the depth of the team.”
There will be no rest for the Duke squad as they must return in under 48 hours in arguably one of their biggest matchups of the season. Although Duke has claimed four of the last five contests, including a 2-0 shutout last season in the cup, Maryland (3-0) holds a 33-12-3 overall advantage with the last victory over the Blue Devils leading to an appearance in the NCAA tournament final.
If Duke hopes to put the past behind them and reassert its recent dominance, it must look no further than stopping Linnea Gonzales. The senior forward has received Big Ten preseason honors her entire career, scored the game winner against the Blue Devils last season and already has four goals to her name this year–second to teammate Nike Lorenz with five.
“[Gonzales] is quick and she is a handy player for sure," Bustin said. "I think we cannot give her the space that she needs and the space that she wants to pick up her speed. We will have to take care of her in space and then just make sure that we are putting the pressure on her when she is ready to pull the trigger.”
The Terrapins thrashed their competition in their tour of California, defeating Pacific, California and UC Davis with a combined 14-1 margin. Duke will need to be firing on all cylinders and ignore the hostile road environment if they hope to escape the weekend with a 4-0 record on the season.
Unfortunately for Duke, a grueling slate featuring 14 ranked opponents follows the cup, with three straight road games against No. 10 Princeton, No. 6 Penn State and No. 11 Syracuse over a one-week period starting Sept. 7.
“For us it is just getting our feet wet–getting on the road," Bustin said. "We have been here [Durham] since August 7th so it will be nice to get out and be together as a team and look forward to some really great competition at a tournament that we have really enjoyed and have done quite well at over the last few years."
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