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Duke fall sports preview: Field hockey

Olivia Sahaydak will be relied upon to deliver consistent scoring for the Blue Devils, as Duke loses a significant portion of its scoring from a year ago.
Olivia Sahaydak will be relied upon to deliver consistent scoring for the Blue Devils, as Duke loses a significant portion of its scoring from a year ago.

The Duke field hockey team is revving up for another campaign after the title hopes of the 2018 season fizzled out in the second round. An unfortunate 1-0 loss to Wake Forest sent the Blue Devils packing, capping off a 16-6 season that ended with a No. 5 overall ranking but without the hardware the team had in its sights. As it prepares for a fall slate fraught with just as many challenges and tough contests as the previous year, The Chronicle takes a look at a few notables with opening day right around the corner. 

Player to look out for: Olivia Sahaydak 

The main issue that has the potential to plague the 2019-2020 Duke squad is a lack of scoring. The Blue Devils scored three goals a game last season, but against tougher opponents there were occasions where the Duke forwards simply could not find the back of the net. This is where Olivia Sahaydak comes in. 

The Blue Devils lost three of their top five scorers to the fickle mistress that is gradation, cap and gowns taking 36 goals with them to the great beyond. As a freshman last year, Sahaydak put the ball in the cage 10 times on only 25 shots, easily leading the team in shot conversion percentage. Overall, Duke converted on only 16.5% of its shots, lower than the 18.8 conversion percentage of its opponents—despite the Blue Devils having one of the staunchest defenses in the nation. If Sahaydak can follow up her freshman season with another aggressive and efficient sophomore effort, her team should be well on its way to title contention. 

Most anticipated matchup: North Carolina

This one is an easy one. 

Not only are the Tar Heels the crosstown rivals, they are also the defending national champions. The Blue Devils clashed with them twice in the previous calendar year, losing both times but by a final of only 2-0 in the first meeting. Duke missed out on a chance for revenge in the playoffs with the loss to Wake Forest, but should come back with a vengeance in the 2019 season. Look for this early October tilt to be one of the most exciting of the fall. 

Worst case scenario: 

There are clear ways that this team takes a step back from last season. 

The lack of efficiency in scoring was an issue for last year’s squad, and it is shaping up to be a problem again this year as the team lost many key forwards from last year to graduation. If the ball can’t seem to find its way across the goal line for the Blue Devils, we could be looking at a far more modest record, closer to .500. This is an unlikely outcome, as the strengths of this team still outweigh the shortcomings, but the worst outcome is a similar, early tournament exit to last year. 

Best case scenario:  

Thus far we have focused on the forwards, but alas, defense wins championships. And it very well could this coming year. 

The Blue Devils return almost everyone from last years’ defensive core, which will be instrumental this year even more so than last. Only giving up an average of 1.5 goals per game this year would put the team in a great spot to repeat the successes of 2018 and even improve on them in 2019. 

Even if the offense takes a step back, an impenetrable defense could carry the Blue Devils to national championship contention. Look for the back half of the team to stand tall into late November. 

Editor's note: This is a part of The Chronicle's daily series of previews for Duke's fall sports, the rest of which can be found here.

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