After blowing out expectations last year in just the third season in program history, including a landmark win against then-No. 4 Texas, the Blue Devils have come to prove that such a breakthrough was no fluke. An opening day win against then-No. 5 LSU in convincing fashion and the best start in the team’s short history have certainly helped in that regard, laying the foundation for a team that is, almost inexplicably, ready to mount a challenge for the ACC crown. Duke’s pitching is certainly going to keep it in contention, but it’s the boom-or-bust lineup and previously-average defense that will be key to this squad making the leap. -Em Adler
New player to watch: Claire Davidson
The Blue Devil roster boasts a lot of graduate students and seniors that will suck up playing time, so it will take a special effort to shine as a new member of this team. Pitcher/outfielder Claire Davidson has that potential.
The top-40 recruit immediately made an impact in Duke’s opening weekend, slotting nicely into both the pitching rotation and battling lineup. In her first career start against Central Arkansas, she racked up nine strikeouts in five innings of work, a program record for strikeouts in a debut. She’ll fit in next to seniors Peyton St. George and Brianna Butler and add valuable innings for the Blue Devils this season. -Micah Hurewitz
Returning player(s) to watch: Kendyl Lange, Kamryn Jackson
After a couple years of high-profile transfers and the addition of Davidson, Duke has depth it couldn’t have dreamed of just a couple of years ago. Whether that depth is worth a whole lot is going to depend on Lange and Jackson.
Lange, a senior centerfielder, and Jackson, a sophomore third baseman who can spot-start in left, are both in their second years in the program and were on the strong sides of platoons when the 2020 season ended. There’s not a whole lot to project them off of—combined, they’ve totaled fewer than 100 collegiate at-bats, but they showed enough in 2020 to provide some hope. Lange slashed over .300/.400/.400, the perfect line for an up-the-middle glove to provide value anywhere in a lineup, and Jackson showed impressive plate discipline and game power.
Whether Lange’s capability with the bat can hold up after her 2020 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) of .386 inevitably regresses, and whether Jackson can reduce a 40% strikeout rate will be key for them, and for the quality of Duke’s depth as a whole. -Adler
Most anticipated matchup: at Florida State, April 9-11
Aside from its early season dance with LSU, Duke’s toughest opponents this year are Florida State and Virginia Tech. Both are ACC powerhouses, but the Blue Devils are especially itching for the crucial first win as a program against the Seminoles.
Duke was preparing to host Florida State just as last season was cut short, adding even more intrigue to this year’s four-game set. -Hurewitz
With all of last year’s starters returning, it’s hard to envision a large drop-off from last season. Anchored by its senior leadership, Duke can easily continue to climb the rankings and enter the conversation for a big NCAA tournament run. Top teams should be on the lookout for the Blue Devils come May. -Hurewitz
With all of last year’s starters returning, it’s hard to envision a large drop-off from last season. Unless, that is, some 2020 performances were outliers. BABIP regression comes for all of us, and it’s probably coming for seniors Rachel Crabtree and Jameson Kavel and their .387 and .407 BABIPs, respectively. Junior Shelby Waters relied on HR/FB% and BABIP luck for her sub-2.00 ERA last season, and Peyton St. George showed a drastically improved BB% but in only 68.1 innings. Regression could be coming for some topline players, folks. -Adler
Micah: 39-11 (28-10 in the ACC), loss in ACC semifinals, loss in NCAA Regionals
Em: 35-15 (24-14 in the ACC), loss in ACC semifinals, loss in NCAA Super Regionals
Editor's note: This is a part of The Chronicle's series of previews for Duke's spring sports, the rest of which can be found here.
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Micah Hurewitz is a Trinity senior and was previously a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.