After making the NCAA tournament every year from 1998 to 2016, the Duke women’s lacrosse program has faced some recent struggles—missing the tournament for the past two seasons.

However, with experience and high-caliber players returning on the attack, midfield and defense, the Blue Devils look ready to return to the postseason. No. 24 Duke will kick off its 2019 campaign against Villanova at home at Koskinen Stadium Saturday afternoon looking to get the season off on the right foot.

“We have had an awesome year so far. Our team is super motivated our seniors have done a good job leading. We have a lot of depth in our freshman and sophomore classes and they had a great fall. They are so athletic and competitive,” head coach Kirsten Kimel said. “The fall for us was a great litmus test and if we can build off the fall that we had and competition that we played we have a great chance to be an awesome team.”

Headlining the offense will be Olivia Jenner and Charlotte North, both of whom registered impressive seasons last year. Jenner, a senior captain, was voted to the preseason All-American third-team while North received an honorable mention.

Jenner led the ACC in draw controls with 149 and tallied 31 goals and 44 points. Her play at the at the draw will be critical in the coming season for the Blue Devils to win the ball and capitalize on as many possessions as possible. Meanwhile, North will be looking to continue her knack for goal-scoring while also developing other facets of her game. As a freshman, North broke the program record for freshman goals and points by contributing 59 goals and 64 points. 

“It has been really easy for [Olivia] to be that experienced voice on the offensive side of the ball,” Kimel said. “I think our goal with Charlotte is to diversify her game. I think we have been trying to expand both Charlotte and Catherine Cordrey’s repertoire so that they build their vision to feed the ball and score for us.”

On the other end of the field, Duke returns a strong defensive unit headlined by Callie Humphrey, who also received honorable mention preseason All-American honors. Humphrey led the team in ground balls last season with 37. Manning the pipes will be senior Jaime Lockwood, who has appeared in 27 games over the last three seasons and had 52 saves last year. 

The unit will be tasked with slowing down the Wildcats’ Katie Comerford, who impacts the game as both a goal-scorer and distributor. The junior registered 32 goals and 33 assists last season to lead the team in points. Comerford is joined by another dual threat on the attack in Ashley Lynch, who had 23 goals and 23 assists last season.

“Defensively I think we have been playing really well. It’s definitely our most experienced group,” Kimel said.

In order to fulfill the strategy of maintaining possession, a strong midfield group is needed. With Jenner at the draw and her sister Maddie Jenner joining her, the middies look to be a potent group. The freshman Jenner headlines Duke’s fourth-ranked recruiting class and was tabbed to play for the United States U19 squad along with fellow freshman Olivia Rubin, who also plays in the midfield. 

“It is everybody’s first game and all of us had shortened preseasons so I think first and foremost we are excited to get out there and play somebody other than ourselves. I think that for us, our goal is to have the ball more than they do,” Kimel said. “We have worked on our draw game all preseason and to capitalize on those possessions we create for ourselves. We have a lot of depth in the midfield so I feel like we will be able to run a good amount. That’s our plan of attack: win the ball, capitalize on possessions and try to keep the ball away from them.”