After a disappointing 2019 season, Duke looked to start the 2020 campaign strong.
But the Blue Devils struggled throughout their opening weekend, falling to Louisville 3-0 Friday and 3-1 Saturday at Trager Stadium in Louisville, Ky., with the first of the two contests counting as a conference matchup.
Duke was supposed to start its season last weekend against Syracuse, a good but middle-of-the-road team. However, the Blue Devil bus had to turn around after it was reported that several Syracuse players had been potentially exposed to someone with COVID-19.
Thus, Duke was forced to start the year with a back-to-back against the perennially high-ranking Cardinals.
“I don’t have any control in scheduling,” Blue Devil head coach Pam Bustin said of this unprecedented season. “I would never open up with a top-10 team like Louisville or [a team] in the conference.”
Duke (0-2, 0-1 in the ACC) played no scrimmages this season, and to jump directly into conference play and a back-to-back was a huge hurdle for the team. Despite the two losses, Bustin is happy with the improvement she saw in the second game.
On Friday, Louisville (2-0, 1-0 in the ACC) scored three goals on 10 shots, while the Blue Devils answered with just five shots and no goals of their own. Duke found a stronger offensive footing the next day, though, tallying 10 shots and a goal.
For much of Saturday’s game, it seemed like the score could go either way. Both teams were able to create chances and generate momentum, and only in the fourth quarter did the Cardinals gain any visible edge against the Blue Devils.
After Louisville scored the first goal of the game with just over 30 seconds left in the first half, Duke forward Noor van de Laar answered a mere 19 seconds later to tie the game going into halftime. Smart passes and quick feet in the middle were to thank for the golden opportunity.
However, a string of penalties in the third period resulted in two goals for Louisville. Despite a valiant effort from Duke, those would be the last goals of the game.
Nevertheless, Bustin was proud of the work her players put in after the first loss.
“They took it upon themselves to discuss situations and pull video out for themselves to look at and discuss approaches,” Bustin said. “[They were] just so proactive in making some changes for today.”
The Blue Devils lost many key players to graduation after last season, including two All-Americans and their four-year starting goalie. However, the team’s freshmen stepped up in a big way this past weekend.
On Saturday, freshman midfielder Darcy Bourne led the team in shots in just her second outing as a Blue Devil, and freshman goalie Piper Hampsch made six saves. Improving on her three saves Friday, Hampsch provided quality insurance when the defense faltered against the Cardinals’ aggressive offense.
Following Saturday’s contest, Bustin singled out finishing opportunities in the scoring circle and possession in the defensive zone as areas of improvement for Duke. Perhaps the most glaring issue Bustin mentioned, however, were penalties.
While Duke limited Louisville to one field goal Saturday, down from three Friday, the other two of the Cardinals’ three goals came from penalty corners. In total, the home team got nine penalty corner opportunities Saturday, with those being far more difficult to defend.
Still, Saturday’s match was a huge improvement over Friday, even if the scoreboard only reflected that somewhat. The energy was up, the chemistry was there and the Blue Devils were calm and collected in situations that left them looking confused and frantic the day prior.
Next, Duke returns home to play North Carolina Sunday at 12 p.m. The Tar Heels won both the 2018 and 2019 NCAA championships and are undefeated over the past two seasons. It won’t be an easy matchup for the Blue Devils, but a tense rivalry and a new fire in the team should make for an exciting game.
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Sasha Richie is a Trinity senior and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.