A weekend away from home featuring stiff competition resulted in mixed results once again for the Blue Devils.

A week after defeating then-No. 12 Northwestern and falling to then-No. 4 Maryland in the Big Ten/ACC Cup in College Park, Md., Duke headed farther up I-95 to play No. 6 Princeton Friday and No. 5 Penn State Sunday. 

In a true road matchup against the Tigers at Bedford Field in Princeton, N.J., the Blue Devils were unable to hold their leads on two different occasions, falling 3-2 in a back-and-forth battle that saw the Tigers grab the lead for good with two goals within 121 seconds of one another. The Blue Devils then played Penn State at Temple University’s Howarth Field in Philadelphia, using three goals in the second half to come home with a 4-1 victory.

“We did a lot of work from Friday until today,” Duke head coach Pam Bustin said Sunday. “We had a good practice at Temple Saturday. Really, we just needed to reset back to our game and get back to the things that are important to us as a team. It was not perfect by any means but certainly much better and more consistent. I was really proud that we were able to get back to that against a great team like Penn State who definitely challenged us.”

Leading 2-1 against Princeton going into the final 20 minutes of Friday’s game, Duke (4-2) ceded a goal to Maddie Bacskai off a penalty corner, assisted by Elise Wong and Sophia Tornetta, in the 52nd minute. Two minutes later, Bacskai assisted on MaryKate Neff’s goal off a rebound to put Princeton (3-2) ahead for good. Despite generating two consecutive penalty corners in the final six minutes, the Blue Devils were unable to find the back of the net.

“We are learning,” Bustin told GoDuke.com. “We are going to look at it, come together as a team, talk about it and grow from it. Our leaders are really learning quickly, and our more inexperienced players are getting the experience. It can only be better for us as we move from day to day.”

Duke got on the board first late in the opening half, with Margaux Paolino scoring off a Rose Tynan pass into the circle. Despite four shots in the period to the Tigers’ three, Paolino’s strike was the only tally of the first half.

However, Princeton responded in the opening minutes of the second, with Clara Roth finishing a one-on-one opportunity against Sammi Steele following a deep pass. Although the Blue Devils answered with a Tynan backhand goal from the left side just 18 seconds later, they were doomed by the three-minute stretch that gave the Tigers the lead.

“We tried to make adjustments and at times we did,” Bustin said. “But I think it just put a lot of pressure on our backfield to have that big ball get through. It became chaotic. They are very fast and they run things down and created some chaos for our backfield. And they earned those corners from it.”

Following the heartbreaking defeat that saw both teams even in shots and penalty corners at nine and four apiece, Duke had to regroup for a neutral site matchup against the Nittany Lions (3-2), who lost to Princeton 2-1 in double-overtime earlier in the week.

Penn State came out strong, with Anna Simon knocking in the first goal off a direct corner, assisted by Madison Morano and Katie Dembrowski in the 19th minute. Once again, however, the Blue Devils were able to quickly respond, with Tynan scoring her fifth goal of the season just five minutes later. Despite the two teams combining for 13 shots and seven penalty corners in the opening half, the score remained knotted at one heading into the break.

“We are doing a great job on our attack penalty corners,” Bustin said. “We still can get better. Our timing and precision can be better but we are getting there. We have a lot of really strong options.”

Just over six minutes into the second half, Jillian Wolgemuth scored her first goal of the season to break the tie off a direct corner assisted by Caroline Andretta and Paolino. Although Duke generated 10 shots in the half and four penalty corners, it held a tenacious one-goal lead until there were just under eight minutes left, when Andretta doubled the lead after drawing goalie Jenny Rizzo out of the cage after a Lily Posternak pass. Tynan scored her second goal of the game for good measure with less than a minute remaining to give the Blue Devils an insurmountable 4-1 advantage.

“Our leadership overall was fantastic,” Bustin said. “From the way our leaders carried themselves to the way they set the tone for the rest of the team. You earn the win, but it was also about the confidence that when we refocus, we can come together for the good of the team. We had really great moments of fantastic field hockey today.”

Duke will stay on the road, opening ACC play against No. 10 Syracuse Friday. The Blue Devils will then return to Jack Katz Stadium Sunday for a nonconference contest against No. 15 St. Joseph’s before taking on rival No. 2 North Carolina in just less than two weeks.