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Duke field hockey continues to show spring improvement in double-overtime loss to No. 5 Liberty

Duke looks like a different team compared to the fall.
Duke looks like a different team compared to the fall.

Liberty’s mascot may be the Flames, but it was Duke that started the game on fire Sunday, shooting out to an early 2-0 lead behind goals from sophomore Hannah Miller and freshman Darcy Bourne in the first 3:23.

However, the 12th-ranked Blue Devils failed to find the back of the net for the remainder of the contest and fell to the fifth-ranked Flames 2-3 in a double-overtime thriller. The loss to Liberty came two days after Duke dropped its contest with No. 13 Wake Forest 1-4, although the ending of Sunday’s game was far more eventful. 

In the second overtime period, Liberty forward Jill Bolton rifled the game-winning shot past Duke goalie Piper Hampsch just minutes after her earlier overtime goal was called off, capping off the Blue Devils’ two-loss weekend.

Despite the two defeats, Duke’s performance Sunday was certainly a positive sign.

Miller and Bourne undoubtedly attracted all the attention out of the gates, but graduate transfer Eva Nunnink served as the centerpiece of an impressive Blue Devil defensive showing throughout the afternoon.

“That kid is giving us above and beyond,” head coach Pam Bustin said of Nunnink. “I mean, she hasn’t come out for a minute and plays smart and gives us everything, and we honor that.”

Of all Nunnink’s contributions throughout the weekend, none were more important than her three-on-one stop with seven minutes remaining in the third quarter against Liberty. With Duke (3-9) clinging onto a 2-1 lead, three Flames tore down the field with only Nunnink left to prevent them from getting off a quality shot. The Netherlands native stretched her stick out just far enough to break up the Liberty pass, though, thwarting the offensive possession. 

Her highlights may have come as a defender, but Nunnink managed to get off a team-high four shots Friday and added in three shots on goal Sunday, proving she can make an impact on both ends of the field. 

The energy displayed by Nunnink radiated onto her fellow defenders Caroline Hanan and Grace Kim as well. Duke was forced to lean on its defense for most of the Liberty game, in large part thanks to Flame goalie Azul Iritxity Irigoyen engulfing every Blue Devil shot on goal after the opening four minutes.

“I thought our defense was unbelievable [against Liberty],” Bustin said. “I thought our corner defense was fantastic and our defensive organization for the most part really did take the wind out of [Liberty’s] sails at times. But like I told the team, you can only sustain that defensive stop for so long. You’ve got to get it out. You’ve got to relieve the backfield and you’ve got to put some numbers on the board on the other end.” 

Although Duke’s defensive effort against Liberty (9-1) was a highlight, Iritxity Irigoyen was the true standout player on the field Sunday. The Argentina native racked up 12 saves, but even that impressive number fails to fully explain the magnitude of her impact. 

Duke started the game off playing aggressively and continued to do so until the very end, but Iritxity Irigoyen matched the Blue Devils’ intensity. In the closing minutes of the third quarter, Miller and sophomore Josie Varney fired off shots that each looked like it would easily find the back of the net, but Iritxity Irigoyen stopped both. 

“[Iritxity Irigoyen] had a great game, however I felt we did take our shots,” Bustin said. “We wanted to shoot quickly or at least try to and I think there were times we actually shot the ball right at her and we need to mature in that way too—that you’re shooting to find the space not shooting to find the goalkeeper. We’ll continue to work on that but I mean I can’t be disappointed with—I think we had 17 shots and 14 of them were on goal. That’s good. We just have to finish and maybe create some more corners.”

The final score seemed to indicate Duke’s offense went completely dormant after its second goal, but quite the contrary was true. The Blue Devils continued to pepper Iritxity Irigoyen with shots—they just couldn’t get the ball past her.

Although Bustin was overall satisfied with the way her squad performed, she did indicate that sloppy play ultimately plagued Duke in the end. 

“I’m not happy with the number of cards we had [during the Liberty game]. I’m not happy with the amount of minutes that we’ve had to play man down.” Bustin said. “I think that put a lot of pressure on our defense, but also it takes a lot more from every other player.”

Sunday’s contest was Duke’s fourth overtime loss of the season. While the team’s record at the moment looks extremely lopsided, the Blue Devils are still in play for both a chance at earning the ACC automatic bid or one of the eight at-large bids to the NCAA tournament. This team looks dramatically different than it did in the fall, and although the road to the NCAA tournament is filled with twists and turns, Duke is very much in the conversation. 

The Blue Devils next step in their quest for a bid will be another home match against No. 8 Syracuse this Saturday.

Jake C. Piazza

Jake Piazza is a Trinity junior and sports editor of The Chronicle's 117th volume.


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