The Chronicle's 2023 Duke fall sports season preview

By Sept. 1, all of Duke's fall sports will officially be in season.
By Sept. 1, all of Duke's fall sports will officially be in season.

Editor's note: The Chronicle's cross country preview was added after its Sept. 1 publication.

It's that time of year again — back to school, back to work and, of course, back to sports. Several Duke teams have already kicked off their fall 2023 campaigns while others await their rapidly approaching debuts. The Chronicle is here to preview each team, who to keep an eye on and which games are a must-watch. Click each subheading below for the full previews and be sure to follow along with our coverage of Blue Devil athletics all throughout the fall.

Women's soccer

Last season, Duke had the makings of a College Cup-bound team — immense talent, steadfast teamwork and unrivaled determination. With a 15-5-3 overall record and one of the best strikers in the country with Michelle Cooper, it seemed as though head coach Robbie Church’s squad might hoist a trophy. A berth to the biggest event in college soccer, however, proved out of reach. Once more losing in the NCAA quarterfinals, the Blue Devils exited the road to a national championship in a double-overtime loss to No. 3 Alabama. 

Adding to the sting of defeat, Duke lost a lot of veteran talent to the offseason. Cooper, the 2022 MAC Hermann Trophy winner, was drafted second overall in the NWSL to the Kansas City Current. She was joined in the professional ranks by teammates Sophie Jones, Delaney Graham and Mackenzie Pluck. On top of that, senior goalkeeper Ruthie Jones along with graduate student defender Jenna Royson have since departed. 

Despite heavy losses, this Blue Devil team is shaping up to flip the script and earn a trip to the College Cup. With many leadership vacancies to fill, the likes of seniors Maggie Graham, Katie Groff, Olivia Migli and Emily Royson are ready to step up to the challenge. They will be joined in their quest for glory by a host of younger talent, namely headlined by sophomore Kat Rader, the reigning ACC Freshman of the Year with 29 points to her name last season.

“Kat had a terrific game against South Carolina,” Church said about the team’s Aug. 10 preseason game. “I think we are developing players to play around her.”

That’s not to say that this Duke team’s journey will be an easy one. With difficult contests against the perennial ACC powerhouses of North Carolina, Florida State, Virginia and Notre Dame, along with nonconference matchups against Stanford and Southern California, the group will have to fight tooth and nail for each and every win. The Blue Devils, however, carry a well-balanced mix of experience and youth, making them a serious contender for the national title. 

“This is a team that has a big heart and a big will,” Church said. “This team wants to be very, very good.”

-Mackenzie Sheehy

READ MORE on the start of Duke's season:

No. 4 Duke women's soccer shuts out West Virginia in season-opening win

Even after their sisters left, Duke women's soccer is still a family affair for Maggie Graham and Emily Royson

Men's soccer

On Friday night, Koskinen Stadium is coming back to life. Ringing in its season with a match against Jacksonville, Duke will be back in action and ambitious as ever.

“Seniors … with a lot to prove … have had great careers and are hungry for more,” said head coach John Kerr at a media availability last week, gesturing to the players sitting around him.

Veterans are, indeed, a defining characteristic in the program this year; the roster is rife with junior and senior players — even some graduate students — who are looking for their chance to take the Blue Devils all the way to a national title. This lofty ambition does not come without merit, as Duke took the ACC regular season title outright last year as well as a run to the national quarterfinals. The team’s respective performances against Clemson and Creighton did ultimately lead to the end of their ACC and NCAA tournament runs, but they also showcased Duke talent that, on another day, might have won out.

“We have a lot of returning guys that have tasted a bit of success,” said senior midfielder Nick Pariano, one of those veterans. “But we didn't get as far as we wanted to get. And now we have a bit of experience and will feel a little more comfortable when we get in that position again.”

Indeed, much of last year’s talent is still hanging around. Seniors Pariano, Amir Daley and Antino Lopez head into their fourth season with the Blue Devils together, now with three eventful years of shared soccer experience under their belts. These players have showcased their talents all over the field for several seasons and will continue to do so. But now, they’re bringing experience and development with that talent, too.

Still, there is an element of balance on this year’s roster. Shakur Mohammed and Peter Stroudhave both departed Duke for the MLS, leaving behind two pairs of cleats that are not easy to fill. Eliot Hamill, the Blue Devils’ starting goalkeeper since 2021, said his goodbyes to the program as well after finishing out his graduate year. So while Kerr can lean on trusty upperclassmen like Pariano, he’s looking for additional assets in some new names as well.

“We have guys coming in — guys that have been here and are experienced and played lots of minutes last year — that I know the rest of us have full confidence in,” Pariano said. “And I'm really excited to see what they do now with these holes opening up. It's just more opportunities for new guys to step in.”

In terms of this team’s best assets, the defense is looking to be Duke’s M.O. just like it was last season. Both Lopez and Daley, along with sophomores Kamran Acito and Axel Gudbjornsson, are defenders who helped Duke to 11 regular-season shutouts. In 2022, 41 percent of shots from opponents were on-goal, and only 11 of them went in all season.

“We ​​have four starting defenders coming back with a lot of experience. We also have an excellent goalkeeper, with Julian [Eyestone] coming in, to add to that defense,” Kerr said.

This season is certainly shaping up to be an interesting one for the Blue Devils. They’re sitting pretty with a preseason No. 4 ranking (the highest in the ACC) and riding the heels of a two-loss season, and none during the regular season. There are high expectations for this Duke squad, and plenty of possibilities. -Sophie Levenson


The Blue Devils will have plenty to work with this season as they have an influx of talented returning and incoming players. From graduate students returning from injury to four incoming freshmen, the growing team has the Blue Devils “continuing to focus on team culture, which is in a good spot” and “working hard to get ready to get started,” according to head coach Jolene Nagel.  

The talent was on display Saturday as the Blue Devils defeated Davidson in three sets in an exhibition matchup, providing a first glimpse of what might be to come from the group. Despite defeating the Wildcats in straight sets, the teams opted to play the remaining two sets, with Duke out-killing Davidson 42 to 30. The focus on team culture and offensive rhythm in the offseason paid off, Nagel said, as “the upperclassmen really did a good job of leading and keeping things steady out there,” and “they were good anchors for us bringing the composure.” 

For the Blue Devils to build on their preseason win, they will have to translate the positive signs from the win against the Wildcats to keep pace within a loaded ACC, which has sent teams to the Final Four in the 2021 and 2022 seasons. 

“We want to be competing at the highest level, and we’ll get our opportunity to do just that,” Nagel said. 

Despite the changes in the active roster from last season, the Blue Devils seem to have the seniority and guidance to prosper in their competitive conference this season. As the roster grew, so did the leadership, with the Blue Devils not only keeping graduate students Gracie Johnson and Lizzie Fleming as captains but bestowing the honor on graduate student Madison Bryant and senior Sydney Yap as well.

In practice and exhibition, Nagel believes that her group certainly has the tools to “be able to, day in and day out, work together to get better so that we can be the best we can be.” 

If those tools perform as expected, it might be an exciting year for Blue Devil volleyball. -Anna Newberry

Field Hockey

While last year’s season did not end the sweetest way for the Blue Devils, success does not come in one year but through consistent improvements. This season represents another opportunity for Duke to demonstrate its growth into a formidable ACC field hockey opponent. 

“When we met in November after the season, the season ending was really hard on us because I think we kept improving, we kept growing, but we just couldn't take that turn,” said head coach Pam Bustin.

This season, Duke is returning 91% of its scoring from last season and eight of its starters including graduate student Hannah Miller. With much of their offensive arsenal returning, the Blue Devils will have to worry less about building team chemistry and instead focus on instituting their gameplan. 

“We had to get better at our basic skills,” Bustin said. “Just really hone in to make them second nature at this level and at this speed, and then also making sure that our hockey IQ improves, like understanding the game better, critical moments in the match, recognizing when we have to step up and what the solutions are in those moments.” 

That process was kickstarted by two exhibition matches against VCU and North Carolina August 17 and August 20, respectively. Duke was ranked 20th amongst the crowd in preseason polling, and after a disappointing finish last season, the Blue Devils have a chance to start fresh and prove their doubters wrong. Bustin said that the exhibition matches were really to “test how far we've come in recognizing the phases of the game and what decisions we're going to make in different situations of the game.” 

There are a number of returning players to the team this season providing added experience and leadership, coupled with fresh faces including four first-years and a graduate transfer. This combination can allow for new growth this season for Duke.

“We have a lot of talent from the top of the roster to A to Z,” Bustin said, “So, how we're going to manage that, it's going to be a fun challenge for the coaches in a good way.” 

-Suresh Kannoth

Cross Country

2022 was a season of great promise with middling results for the Blue Devils. After a difficult 2021 season, expectations were high for the women’s team thanks to the addition of freshman Dalia Frias and transfer Ashlyn Ramos. Meanwhile, the men’s team added several first-years and returned many of its top seven runners, including senior Zach Kinne and graduate student Chris Theodore.

But while the women’s team saw strong improvement from the previous season, both teams finished in seventh place at the ACC Championships and fifth at the NCAA Regional, short of earning a bid to NCAA Nationals. One bright spot was the addition of Dutch signee Amina Maatoug, who became the women’s team’s breakout star. Her performance in the Southeast Regional earned a spot in the NCAA Championship, where she finished in 28th place. 

“She is on a mission this year,” head coach Angela Reckart told The Chronicle, remarking that Maatoug had gained valuable racing experience during the year and while competing at the European U23 championships, where she received a bronze medal.

This season, Duke heads into an ACC cross country landscape just as tough as the previous season. 

“We’re very realistic with the depths of the conference and our region,” Reckart. “I think finishing even just [as] a top-five program in the ACC would be a significant jump for us … but we’re putting in the work to ensure that we can achieve what we want to achieve, which is being at the [NCAA Championships] and having both teams there.”

With key runners on both teams like Frias, Ramos, Kinne and Theodore having departed, the team will look to both its returning veterans and its new slate of exciting freshmen. With these factors in play, Duke hopes to return both its teams to the NCAA Championships for the first time in three years. -Tyler Walley


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