Following its drubbing of Appalachian State last Sunday, Duke looks to keep its win streak alive against two ranked opponents this weekend.
The No. 3 Blue Devils first welcome No. 18 Virginia to Jack Katz Stadium Friday at 6 p.m. before traveling to Norfolk, Va., for a matchup with No. 22 Old Dominion Sunday at noon. Duke’s schedule has started out tough, with 10 of its first 12 matches pitting the Blue Devils against teams in the top 25. But that stiff competition early in the year can help the team better prepare as the season moves into its most important stages.
“With the strength of our conference, preparing to play that kind of level—even out of conference—is invaluable,” Duke head coach Pam Bustin said. “We have to strive to play at that high level every time we step on the field.”
The Blue Devils (9-3, 2-1 in the ACC) are coming off three consecutive wins, with their last defeat coming at the hands of crosstown rival No. 1 North Carolina Sept. 21. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers (4-6, 1-3 in the ACC) have lost five of their last six and the Monarchs (7-3) are winless in their past three contests. Despite their struggles, Virginia and Old Dominion still boast two of the best defenses in the nation, ranking 17th and 18th respectively in goals allowed per game.
“We have been working a lot on our attacking and it has been getting better from week to week,” Bustin said. “We do expect to face a lot of numbers on the defensive side...so our ability to move the ball and choose our attacking time is going to be really important.”
Last season, Duke fell 4-1 in its lone matchup with Virginia. The Cavaliers were led by the sensational performance of goalie Carrera Lucas, who notched eight saves during the contest. Lucas ranked fourth in the ACC with 3.8 saves per game last year, and she has only improved coming into her senior season. The Brooklandville, Md., native currently leads the ACC with 4.8 saves per game.
Virginia also added formidable weapons on the offensive end since its win against the Blue Devils last year, including freshman striker Grace Wallis. The three-time Pennsylvania All-State selection currently leads the Cavaliers in points, goals and assists per game.
“[We need] good team defense to try and contain not only Grace, but they also have a lot of other pretty talented attacking players that we have to keep our eye on,” Bustin said. “And when [Lucas] is hot, she is very hot, and her reflexes and agility are really good. We are going to have to make sure that, as a team, we move her and put some pressure on her.”
Duke has also added talent of its own since last season’s defeat. Freshman Olivia Sahaydak posted her first career hat trick in the team’s win over Appalachian State. The Bethlehem, Pa., native ranks third on the team in goals per game and fourth in points per contest, while fellow freshman Leah Crouse ranks second in assists per matchup.
Old Dominion, meanwhile, is led by Erin Huffman and Rebecca Burch. The two juniors place first and second on the team in points and are tied for the team lead in goals. The Blue Devils must be able to shut Huffman and Burch down if they hope to replicate their 3-0 shutout of the Monarchs last fall, when Duke limited the duo to only one shot combined.
After their matchups with Virginia and Old Dominion, the Blue Devils head to Louisville as they continue ACC play. Duke then returns home the following Friday against Boston College before a rematch with the Tar Heels two days later.
“Overall, [we hope to] just build the strength of our game and obviously score more goals than the opponent does,” Bustin said of the team’s goals this weekend. “But within that, just to strengthen our connection as a team.”
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