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Duke field hockey starts season with a bang, handling two ranked opponents

Olivia Sahaydak notched two goals Friday night.
Olivia Sahaydak notched two goals Friday night.

As the evening sun shone down in Durham and freshmen breathed a sigh of relief as the first week of classes came to a close, it was a similar new beginning for the Blue Devils, who finally opened their 2019 campaign with a busy weekend.

Duke played host to Penn State in their highly anticipated home opener Friday, capping off the school week under the late afternoon sun on Williams Field at Jack Katz Stadium in Durham. The Blue Devils’ trying first weekend would continue with another top-25 test Sunday, this time on the road against William & Mary.

There were no cobwebs to shake off for No. 3 Duke as it took care of business in its first two contests, handling the ninth-ranked Nittany Lions 4-1 and 25th-ranked Tribe 4-0. 

Despite the Blue Devils’ strong finish to the weekend—and an atmosphere in their home stadium ratcheted up by the many Penn State travelers who joined the Duke faithful—the first matchup started flat. Play was concentrated in the midfield on both sides, as attacks were quickly snuffed out, with each team figuring out the other. With 12 minutes to go in the quarter, the Blue Devils threatened the circle, but it was for naught, as the Nittany Lion backline quickly shut out any lead passes. But after that quiet first quarter, it was all Duke the rest of the weekend.

“You just have to recollect and go out there and go out there and get back at the game,” noted Duke head coach Pam Bustin following the Penn State game. “With three more quarters to go, we had some work to do.” 

Work they did. The Blue Devils were out to prove a point headed into the second frame, showing their might by netting two and controlling the play for the entire quarter. Duke kept harassing the Penn State defense until Olivia Sahaydak found the back of the cage, passing a juicy rebound in without much resistance from the defense. The breakthrough set the tone for the rest of the half, with the Blue Devils spending more time in the offensive circle than they spent in their own defensive half. 

Their aggression paid off again quickly, with true freshman Hannah Miller scoring on the break for her first of what will likely be many goals this season. Duke (2-0) took their 2-1 edge into halftime feeling much better about themselves than 15 minutes prior. 

The Blue Devils pressed the attack throughout most of the game, cashing in on attempts from returning forward Sahaydak— who had two goals on the day— as well as Miller, whose goal in her first collegiate match turned out to be the game winner. Leah Crouse also added a show-stopping insurance goal that turned up the volume on the PA announcer, but left the rest of the press box speechless.

The fourth quarter of the tilt against the Nittany Lions (0-2) began at a one-goal margin in favor of the Blue Devils, a score that didn't reflect the true tale of Duke offensive dominance for the previous 30 minutes. Sahaydak and Leah Crouse seemed to agree, both netting insurance goals that frustrated the defense into multiple green card warnings—understandably so, as Crouse’s goal was a thing of beauty. She streaked down the wing, drawing defenders toward her as she cut across the circle. Just as it looked like she was out of room, she flicked her wrists and shot across her body, finding nothing but net in the top right corner as her teammates celebrated the goal that would see them through the contest.

The final horn sounded, mercifully, with Duke looking as if it were just hitting their stride. They looked to carry it going into their Sunday matinee against William & Mary (0-1).

“[This] gives us a great mindset going into it, feeling confident after one big win,” Sahaydak said Friday about needing to play another ranked opponent.

Their confidence shone in Williamsburg, Va., with the Blue Devils pouring 17 shots on the hapless Tribe defense in what finished as a convincing victory for the Duke side. The Blue Devils showcased their depth in their second game, as Crouse was the only player to score in both. Contributions from Lily Posternak and a brace from Haley Schleicher lifted the team to victory as the defense continued to stand tall. Duke only allowed five shots in the whole contest, and only two on goal.

Again, however, the opening frame showed signs of weakness. William & Mary did not register a shot, but neither did Duke. There is no doubt that the Blue Devils controlled the game throughout, but as the calendar moves to November, tough ACC competition will demand faster starts.

A deflection off of Lily Posternak into the back of the net only two minutes into the second quarter woke the Blue Devils up, who sent two more balls across the goal line in the frame, eight shots in the second quarter putting the Tribe on their heels and setting the tone for the rest of the contest.

“We’re just getting started,” Sahaydak said.

The team continued the attack, registering six more shots in the third frame and hitting paydirt off a penalty corner with just a second to go in the quarter. This proved to be too much for a battered William & Mary team, which only mustered one shot in the final fifteen minutes of play, the Blue Devils waltzing out of Williamsburg with a convincing second win.

The team came away from the weekend in good spirits, and for obvious reasons, but Bustin erred on the side of cautious optimism.

“There were some things that were absolutely beautiful from the team tonight, and there were some things that were just not."

Duke will take on No. 15 Northwestern and No. 2 Maryland next weekend, continuing their campaign in the Big 10/ACC Challenge before resuming their normal nonconference slate. 

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