After two straight disappointing seasons, the Blue Devils are confident that they are heading in the right direction this year.
Soon they will get the chance to back up their word against the team that ended their NCAA Tournament hopes the last time the two teams matched up.
No. 15 Duke will host Virginia Tech Saturday at 12 p.m. at Koskinen Stadium in both squads’ first conference contests of the year. Last season, the Hokies squeaked into the NCAA Tournament for the first time in their history after a standout season punctuated by a thrilling 13-12 victory in the first round of the ACC Tournament against the Blue Devils.
“For us, we feel like we’ve taken a big step forward this year with our team, and my concern is that I just want us to go out there and play well,” Duke head coach Kerstin Kimel said. “If we go out and do us well, we’ll win.”
Offensively, the Blue Devils (2-1, 0-0 in the ACC) have come out of the gates on fire despite losing two of their best attackers—All-ACC performers Kyra Harney and Maddie Crutchfield—to graduation. Against a competition of varying caliber thus far, Duke is averaging just less than 20 goals per game and is already boasting three players with at least 10 markers.
As in past seasons, the Blue Devils have been able to kick-start their offense with the nation’s best draw control numbers. Led by the freshman-senior sister duo of Maddie and Olivia Jenner, Duke has taken advantage of odd-man rushes off the draw and have also been systematically breaking down opposing defenses in its usual sets, adding another layer to its attack.
On the other side of the ball, the Blue Devils have not been nearly as impressive. They struggled in their last game against then-No. 6 Northwestern defensively, surrendering two key goals late in the game in a 21-20 defeat. In turn, Duke is hoping its defense will take a step forward after its six-day break between games.
“We’re really, really pleased with how well we performed offensively, really pleased with how we competed, but we gave up a lot of goals," Duke head coach Kerstin Kimel said. "There’s probably been an extra emphasis on defense this past week.”
Virginia Tech (2-2, 0-0) has struggled against two ranked opponents to start the season, getting outscored 31-14 in its two losses, both at home. The Hokies were able to rebound Wednesday against Cincinnati but are still searching for their first victory against a ranked team in their first game on the road.
Virginia Tech still returns two of its main offensive contributors, though, both of whom found success last season against the Blue Devils. Midfielder Paige Petty leads the team with 14 goals and attack Sarah Lubnow has been the major distributor with five assists after notching a combined six tallies in the fateful ACC Tournament contest.
“A lot of what they do is around Paige Petty and a couple of other kids who played a lot last year, but they have a lot of new faces this year,” Kimel said. “For our defenders, what’s good is we feel like our kids are pretty familiar [with them].”
A victory Saturday would represent more than just a victory against the team that sealed the deal on last season’s disappointment—it would also be a positive trend within the ACC after winning just three conference games since the 2015-16 season. Even though the Hokies are not currently ranked within the top 20, Duke will take any momentum it can get from its ACC opener.
“For any of our sports, there’s always an extra emphasis on conference games. We’re excited to play Virginia Tech,” Kimel said. “I think we felt like we’ve got a good amount of competition under our belts and we’ll be ready to go on Saturday.”
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