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Duke field hockey's NCAA title hopes cut short once again with loss to Iowa

All three of Iowa's shots on goal got past Duke goalkeeper Sammi Steele.
All three of Iowa's shots on goal got past Duke goalkeeper Sammi Steele.

For the fourth consecutive year, a once-promising Duke season will end in the first weekend of the NCAA tournament.

Early postseason exits have become a regular theme for the eighth-ranked Blue Devils, though this loss marks the first time Duke did not advance past the first round since 2012. 

It was a tough Iowa team that came out on top 3-2 Friday afternoon at Karen Shelton Field in Chapel Hill. The sixth-ranked Hawkeyes got things going early, putting up three first half goals. To their credit, the Blue Devils fought back with everything they had, as most players slumped over at the final buzzer from exhaustion. Duke’s efforts earned it two goals, but it could not put in a third to tie the game as the clock ticked down on the fourth quarter and the Blue Devils’ season.

“[The two halves] were night and day,” Duke head coach Pam Bustin told GoDuke.com. “It’s kind of a mystery. We came out and maybe we were really excited and maybe we felt that we were going to get right on the attacking foot like we wanted to, but we did that with disregard to the gameplan and that got us in trouble.”

Haley Schleicher put the first ball in the back of the cage for Duke (13-7), scoring 7:05 into the third frame off a penalty corner. Duke took 11 shots Friday, putting seven on goal, but the first attack that caused the Hawkeye defense trouble came from Hannah Miller, who sent the ball into the circle looking for a Blue Devil stick. The Iowa goalie took a foul trying to get to the ball, setting up the penalty corner necessary for Schleicher to send her shot into the back of the cage.

Duke came to life after that, fighting all of the way to the end and ripping four shots on net in the final fifteen minutes. Lily Posternak struck pay dirt with about six minutes remaining in the game, tapping in a rebound off the initial corner shot. This was all of the threat that the Blue Devils could muster, though, as Iowa cleared the ball down the field with less than a minute to go to seal the victory, and give them a date with No. 1 North Carolina Sunday afternoon.

The Hawkeyes (16-4) got things going promptly, cashing in only five minutes into the contest with a strong attack. Leah Zellner got the final touch on Iowa’s first goal off an assist by Ciara Smith. The Hawkeyes didn’t take long to add to their lead, with Smith grabbing her second scoresheet entry on the day only 10 minutes into the game. The Blue Devils were reeling and Iowa kept pressing headed into the second quarter, recording three shots to Duke’s one in the second frame.

“We didn’t move the ball with patient possession the way we knew we could and the way we play and the way we have our game,” Bustin told GoDuke.com. “We weren’t sharp on the counter and that led to two of the corners. And we didn’t execute tactically what we were supposed to do on defense corners.”

Smith added another off a rebound with five minutes to play in the first half, and suddenly it was 3-0 Hawkeyes at halftime. 

This proved to be a deficit too great for the Blue Devils, who will head into Thanksgiving break without a title game berth for another year.

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