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The Chronicle's 2021 Duke fall sports season preview

All of Duke's fall sports are set to be back in action this season.
All of Duke's fall sports are set to be back in action this season.

Duke's fall sports will all be back in action at some point in the next couple of weeks, and there's a lot to catch up on before their seasons begin. Men's and women's soccer, cross country, field hockey and volleyball will have the spotlight for the first part of the school year, so follow along with us to stay up to date. 

Click each subheading below for each sport's preview, and check out the linked features within each subsection. 

Women’s soccer

Another year, another Blue Devil team looking towards championships. After coming into 2020 with College Cup aspirations, Duke made it closer to the Final Four than any other team who missed, technically ending its season on a tie (as Florida State, arguably one of the greatest teams of all time, advanced past the Blue Devils in the Elite Eight on penalties).

"I want to win, and I want to win big in this program," head coach Robbie Church said. "And we want to win trophies, and we want to win all the time."

Winning all the time has become the norm for the Blue Devils, who've used the success of the 2015-17 teams to vault their recruiting to the perennial top-five level. And a small, yet stellar, freshman class joins the vast majority of the 2020 squad that put up the program's best season in four years.

The catch is that the same NCAA decision by which preseason-No. 6 Duke can return three super seniors allows other teams to do the same. So No. 1 Florida State and No. 7 Clemson return every player of consequence, and No. 4 Virginia brings back midfielder Taryn Torres for an extra year. The one team the Blue Devils do close the gap on is No. 3 North Carolina, which adds the top freshman in the nation, but loses three standouts to the pros.

Duke has lost centre back Taylor Mitchell, one of the 2020 team's few most important players, to medical school. But the combination of the freshmen, development from a strong sophomore class and Michigan State transfer Bria Schrotenboer, albeit on a minutes restriction, should push the Blue Devils' super-senior core—the last remnants of the legendary 2017 team—past even last year's success. -Em Adler

Men’s soccer

After a round of preseason exhibitions consisting of two wins, a loss and a draw, the Blue Devils will host their season opener this Friday against Liberty in Koskinen stadium.

Last year’s team was a curious one. The squad lost games it looked like it should have won and struggled to finish even on great plays, failing to register a goal in eight of its 17 games last season. The Blue Devils’ exhibition games earlier this month were encouraging in that respect, as they scored eight goals across four games and at least one in each. The addition of Thorleifur Ulfarsson last spring helped boost scoring and freshman midfielder Ruben Mesalles looked very promising in preseason. The team also returns star sophomore Peter Stroud, who can be expected to be the team’s mitochondria, generating energy just like last year, as well as sophomore defender Lewis McGarvey, who will likely step into a larger role with the loss of defensive stalwart Matthias Frick. -Sasha Richie

Cross Country 

There’s been a lot of turnover in the Duke cross country program over the past few years. First, longtime men’s head coach (as well as the Blue Devils’ director of track and field) Norm Ogilvie retired in the summer of 2020. Then-women’s cross country head coach Rhonda Riley promptly took on Ogilvie’s role in cross country and coached both the men’s and women’s teams last season. Then, after Shawn Wilbourn took over as Duke’s new director of both track and field and cross country this past summer, he hired former North Carolina and Penn State assistant Angela Reckart to replace Riley as the new head coach of men’s and women’s cross country.

Being in the midst of a program shakeover can be difficult to navigate for any group, but it seems like the current crop of Blue Devils are taking it in stride. Last season, both the men and women posted their best performances at the ACC and national level since at least 2012. And with several top runners returning for their extra year of eligibility and a few newcomers ready to make an immediate impact, they should be set for another strong campaign this fall. -Evan Kolin 

Field hockey 

After a disappointing fall season in 2020 with only a couple wins, the Blue Devils are hoping to change their momentum this year. After coming in clutch during a shootout to take home a win last year against then-No. 3 Louisville, now-junior Hannah Miller will look to continue to lead the team during her third season. Duke has added seven freshmen to the roster, so the team is full of young blood.

“To watch their continued development before [the freshmen] arrived, knowing they were coming to Duke on the other side, I think everybody did a great job in preparing properly,” head coach Pam Bustin said of the freshmen. “A lot of the girls were here over the summer and were able to train with our training group. I love watching them continue to grow on a daily basis.”

The 2020-21 season was the worst season Duke’s field hockey team has seen since their 7-11 record in 2012. They’ll be more of a David of this year’s Goliath of an ACC in field hockey—Duke is ranked 12th in preseason rankings, below several ACC teams, though the Blue Devils are hoping to exceed everyone’s expectations and once again dominate on the field.

The Blue Devils have been preparing for the loss of Darcy Bourne, who would be in her second year on the team but won’t be playing for Duke this year. She is staying in her home country of Great Britain to train with the national U21 team to attempt to play in the Junior World Cup. As such, the team will have to adjust to play without its leading scorer from last year. With so much young talent and a thirst for victory, this year’s Blue Devils are not to be missed. - Campbell Lawson


With 11 returning members, Duke has the chemistry and experience for a season of success. Mackenzie Cole and Alex Springate, two members of the squad who have been invaluable since their start, are the captains for the 2021 season. Four freshmen have also joined along with graduate student Taylor Cole, who is Mackenzie’s sister.

Head coach Jolene Nagel is beginning the 2021 season with an almost identical offense to last season, which notably includes Ade Owokoniran, Gracie Johnson, and Payton Schwantz. Owokoniran and Johnson respectively led the team in kills in the extended 2020 season, but with more than 1,000 kills under her belt, Schwantz is, and always has been, a force to reckon with. The four freshmen joining the offense are middle blockers Rylie Kadel and Ngozi Iloh and outside hitters Nikki Underwood and Rachel Richardson. As the fall goes on, we will get to see how the freshmen blossom on the court led by the current leaders of the program.

The exhibition match against North Carolina A&T exemplified the age-old lesson of “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” The Blue Devils picked up right where they left off with a few new additions and boundless energy. As expected, Owokoniran and Johnson dominated offensively with nine and eight kills, respectively. Springate had 29 assists to nine different hitters, while Mackenzie Cole racked up 16 digs. Duke faced issues with maintaining momentum into later sets at the beginning of last season, but if the exhibition match foreshadows the rest of the season, keeping energy high will not be a problem. -Olivia Wivestad

Editor's note: The Chronicle's Duke football preview will come out prior to its first game of the season Sept. 3. For coverage of women's soccer's season opener, second game and third game of the season, click the links. 


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