After making a run to the Elite Eight in their first NCAA tournament since 2016 last season, this year’s Blue Devils have their eyes set on even bigger goals—they want to win it all. And, with the wealth of experience and talent that make up this year’s roster, they may just have the tools to do it.
“We lost to a very good team in Northwestern, and it's really hard to beat them on their field,” said Duke head coach Kerstin Kimel. “But I also think that the areas that we really failed in during that game are fixable, and [are] areas of the game we’re better in now, and we're more experienced. And with that kind of success last year just means we have higher expectations this year, especially considering we have so many people back from last year's team.”
The Blue Devils return 10 starters and six super-seniors, including midfielder Catriona Barry, who recently received Preseason All-ACC recognition, and Katie Cronin, who was Duke’s leading goal-scorer last season, despite missing the last three games due to injury. The draw circle will once again be anchored by senior Maddie Jenner, who ranked third in the country in draws per game last year, and who was named a 2022 Preseason All-American. On top of that, the Blue Devils bring in one of the top freshmen classes in the nation, with six of the eight first years tabbed as All-Americans by USA Lacrosse’s high school recognition program. Between the returners and new talent, Duke looks set to turn last year’s close losses—the Blue Devils lost five games by four goals or less—into wins.
The Blue Devils enter the season ranked No. 8 in the country, marking their highest preseason ranking since 2016. And though four ACC teams sit above them in this initial poll—each of whom Duke will face over the course of the season—this year’s squad is in position to compete with each and every one. -Jonathan Browning
New player to watch: Kerry Nease
The highest-ranked player of any freshman member on Duke’s roster at No. 16, Nease will bring with her a level of versatility and physicality that the Blue Devils need. With a background as the top player out of Richmond, Va., in just her sophomore season, it’s clear why Nease was one of a handful of top recruits coach Kimel extended an offer to join the team. By the time she finished high school, she had gone on to pile up several accolades, including Regional Player of the Year and becoming a US Lacrosse All-American.
“I think for [Nease], like a lot of freshmen learning the [college] game, the game is faster, it’s more physical,” Kimel said. “Those parts of the game are kind of easy for her—it’s learning our systems, feeling comfortable in them and confident that you know what you need to do.”
A proven hard worker, Nease is a player who is an impactful teammate on both sides of the ball. With her ability at the draw, Kimel expects her “to be someone who can contribute on the draw, whether it’s actually taking the draw and being someone who kind of works with Maddie Jenner, or someone who’s on the circle.” When the 5-foot-8 freshman finished at Freeman High School, she had garnered 110 ground balls and 56 caused turnovers on the defensive end. And she was only more impressive on attack, where she registered 215 goals, 77 assists and a mighty 285 draw controls. - Ana Young
Returning player to watch: Caroline DeBellis
With the departure of attacker Gabby Rosenzweig, last season’s points leader, the Blue Devils have an offensive hole to fill. Duke is deep at the position, especially with such a talented freshmen class, but the team is losing more than talent. They are losing experience. Junior attacker Caroline DeBellis is poised to take over much of that workload.
In her first two seasons, DeBellis started all but two games. She had an impressive freshman campaign, leading the team in points with a whopping 19 assists. She was named to the All-IL Women Rookie Team after the season was cut short due to COVID. In her first full year last season, DeBellis ranked seventh on her team in points with nine multiple-goal games. She has experience in big games, with a goal in the loss to Northwestern in the NCAA tournament. Poised to make another tournament run, the Blue Devils will look to DeBellis to help lead their offense and win when it matters most. - Rachael Kaplan
Most anticipated matchup
There will be no shortage of tough games this season for the eighth-ranked Blue Devils, as they’re slated to face six ranked opponents, three of whom advanced to the semifinals of last year’s NCAA Championship. A win against any of the three—Boston College, North Carolina and Syracuse—would catapult Duke into the upper echelon of the ACC. But, if you have to pick just one to tune into, be sure to catch Duke take on Boston College in its final home game of the regular season. The Eagles are the defending National Champions and are the home of last year’s Tewaaraton Award winner, Charlotte North, who played her first two seasons at Duke before transferring. A win here would provide Duke with the momentum needed to take on North Carolina in their final regular season matchup—in their last meeting, the Blue Devils lost a heartbreaker in the waning seconds, preventing them from securing their first win over the Tar Heels since 2014. -Browning
The Blue Devils win it all. The loss in the tournament last season proves to be the key to Duke’s success, as the seniors and graduate students have experience in those big games and know how to win when it counts. Coming into the season ranked eighth, the talent that the freshman class brings elevates the team to the next level, and they are able to step up and contribute in a meaningful way. They have elite competition to go through with a stacked ACC, but the team outworks their opponents, leaving them on top when the season ends. - Kaplan
The Blue Devils will compete against a schedule nearly identical to the one they’ve had throughout the past four seasons—and with that comes a level of expertise and knowledge. But the calendar doesn’t get any less complicated as time goes on, with ACC opponents making up four of the nation’s top five teams. Duke may be ranked eighth, but with the competition level that is scheduled, a first-round loss in the conference tournament is possible. And depending on their seed, an early upset in the NCAA championships may be in store for this batch of Blue Devils as well. - Young
Young: 14-3 (5-3 in the ACC), loss in ACC semifinals, loss in NCAA semifinals
Browning: 12-5 (4-4 in the ACC), loss in ACC semifinals, loss in NCAA quarterfinals
Kaplan: 13-4 (4-4 in the ACC), loss in ACC semifinals, loss in NCAA semifinals
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Rachael Kaplan is a Trinity junior and sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.