It's been nearly six months since a Duke team took the field for official competition. But college sports are finally back, and with that return comes another fall campaign for Blue Devil men's and women's cross country, field hockey, volleyball and men's and women's soccer.
Follow along our fall sports preview over the coming week as we update with overviews for each of Duke's teams competing this fall, and click on the name of each sport for a more in-depth preview.
Duke cross country will head into its first season since the turn of the millennium without head coach Norm Ogilvie leading the men’s side, but that’s mostly where the losses from last season end. The men return their top six finishers from last year’s ACC Championships, while their female counterparts return four of their top five. Not only that, but improved health and “stud” freshmen could catapult each group to the top-three in the conference after the men and women disappointed last season with seventh and ninth-place finishes, respectively.
The Duke field hockey team could use a little chaos right now. Last year, the Blue Devils suffered their worst season since 2012, going an abysmal 1-5 in conference play. Worse, they lost their two All-Americans, Margaux Paolino and Jillian Wolgemuth, as well as goalie Sammi Steele to the cap and gown.
Well, the COVID-19 pandemic is the wild card of wild cards. Will a concoction of youth, uncertainty and vengefulness propel head coach Pam Bustin's Duke to its first-ever ACC championship? Or will the same forces push the team back into last season’s struggles?
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When looking at Duke’s 2020 roster, one might think someone forgot to update last year’s. This is a very similar team to a season ago, with a few exceptions. While similar isn’t exactly what Blue Devil fans were hoping for in a new season, the familiar faces may prove to be an asset. The team has strong chemistry and has bonded over the hardships of a rocky 2019 campaign.
Last year saw Duke’s worst ACC record since 1998, the year before Jolene Nagel was hired as head coach, and was a true test of the team’s devotion to the sport and program. Every match seemed to go the same way: the Blue Devils start with a strong performance that kicks life into their opponent, who proceed to run away with the win. This disappointing pattern was also a beacon of hope, however, as it showed brief glimpses of the team’s true potential.
There’s a relatively clear power structure in the ACC. You have North Carolina, the greatest dynasty in North American sports history. Duke, Virginia and Florida State have been stalwarts of the second tier for the better part of a decade and are usually serious title contenders. N.C. State, Louisville and Clemson are all consistently winning programs as well.
The Blue Devils are in the midst of an incredible run of success, and their talent this year is their best since their record 2017 campaign, plus the Tar Heels are missing key players. With Duke’s recruiting having resurged to match the on-field results, it’s poised to reach the Final Four again, just as soon as Final Fours are a thing we can do again.
“Our ultimate goal, which we haven’t done yet, is to win a national championship,” head coach Robbie Church told The Chronicle Aug. 31. “We’ve been close, but we have not reached that yet.”
After a disappointing season last year, head coach John Kerr brings in 11 talented freshmen in hopes of generating a rebound. This incoming class draws players from diverse backgrounds, but is ultimately headlined by Peter Stroud, one of the best recruits to actually be playing at the collegiate level this season. Last year, the Blue Devils went 7-9-2 overall, including a measly 2-5-1 in conference play, and were knocked out in the first round of the ACC tournament. But with the amount of incoming talent on their hands, expectations are through the roof.