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Leah Crouse returns as Duke field hockey splits opening weekend

Senior Leah Crouse came straight from the airport to Duke's game against Richmond Sunday.
Senior Leah Crouse came straight from the airport to Duke's game against Richmond Sunday.

Senior Leah Crouse and the U21/22 U.S. National Team won a bronze metal at the Junior Pan American Championship and qualified for the Junior World Cup on Saturday. 

By Sunday at midday, Crouse was back on the field to lead Duke in its 1-0 victory against Richmond. 

In their opening weekend, the 12th-ranked Blue Devils fell to No. 15 Rutgers 3-0 Friday then played their Sunday match against the Spiders at Williams Field. In the season’s opener, the team struggled to find a groove on offense, failing to score against a strong Rutgers defensive approach. The Blue Devils certainly seemed to miss Crouse, one of their top leaders, against Rutgers, but she was competing in the Junior Pan American Championship in Santiago, Chile.

Crouse went above and beyond to show her dedication to the Blue Devils in her return on Sunday.

“I came straight to the field from the airport,” Crouse said. “And I really wanted to play just because I've missed two weeks. I wanted to build that connection, especially going into the ACC camp.”

Just a couple short hours later, the Virginia Beach, Va., native subbed onto the field in the second quarter. Although she did make her presence known in the box score with two shots, including one on goal, Crouse’s impact on the field goes beyond the numbers.

“Her experience, not only here at Duke, but also playing at another level brings an air of confidence and an understanding that coaches on the sideline can't really have that type of influence,” head coach Pam Bustin said of Crouse’s influence as a leader.

Needing a win Sunday to gain some early season momentum, sophomore goalie Piper Hampsch and the Duke defense stepped up to shut out Richmond (0-2) and capture the first victory of the season. The Blue Devil offense struggled to get on the scoreboard for much of the game, leaving the contest scoreless into the fourth quarter.

With just 12 minutes left in the game, freshman midfielder Josephine Palde scored her first career goal to take the lead off of a clean assist from graduate student MaryKate Neff. Palde’s shot snuck past the goalie on a shallow angle to set Duke (1-1) up for its coming victory. 

For Bustin, the team certainly has room for improvement, but their collective intensity gives the program reason for excitement. 

“I am so proud of how hard we played and the persistence that we showed—we can still manage our frustration better at times,” Bustin said. “But that's a work in progress. And I'm really pleased with the fact that they just kept pushing and pushing and didn't give up on it.”

With tough opponents coming up soon and ACC play on the horizon, the Blue Devils will need to clean up some shortcomings in their game. In particular, the team simply needs to get on the board more. 

With just one goal in the first two games, the Blue Devils have put a lot of pressure on their defensive play to keep opponents out of the goal. In the opener against Rutgers (2-0), Duke had just two shots on goal, even fewer than Rutgers’ total of goals in the 3-0 shutout. 

But with Crouse back in the lineup and strong defensive play, Duke has the pieces to make significant progress and in the coming weeks, it will certainly have the opportunity to take the next step as a team. 

The Blue Devils will get back in action with another home game this Friday at 6 p.m. against No. 4 Northwestern, looking to knock off a top opponent and set the tone for the conference play to come.

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