Take of the week: Duke field hockey's redemption tour is underway, and it seems like nothing can stop it

Graduate student Hannah Miller is a key staple in Duke field hockey's success this year.
Graduate student Hannah Miller is a key staple in Duke field hockey's success this year.

It is probably fair to say that last season was a rough one for the Blue Devils. Duke went an uninspiring 7-11 overall in the 2022 campaign, including an 0-6 run through conference play. The Blue Devils averaged just 2.28 goals per game at a .175 shot percentage. As such, things did not look so good coming into this year. The Chronicle’s own field hockey beats predicted an improvement from the previous campaign, but not a huge leap forward. The most optimistic projection was a 10-8 finish with a 3-3 record in a stacked ACC.  

This year’s Duke team, however, is proving people wrong. The Blue Devils are, by all definitions, on a rampage. They have gone a whopping 6-1 on the season, dropping their only game to then-No. 2 Northwestern. Since that loss to the Wildcats, Duke has allowed just one goal – against No. 9 Liberty – and scored 16 itself. The Blue Devils have ascended from being No. 20 in the preseason to No. 5 in the nation before their eighth game against Boston College Friday.

The type of turnaround that this program has experienced in the span of one year is nothing short of unbelievable. So what happened? 

Maybe Duke just managed to put it all together, from shooting circle to shooting circle. Maybe the right talent ended up in the right place at the right time. Let’s go with the latter. What are the names to know for this impressive group? 

The place to start is with the goalkeeper, who has been nothing short of phenomenal. Senior Piper Hampsch has started between the pipes in all seven of the Blue Devils’ games so far and was recently named National Field Hockey Coaches Association Division I Defensive Player of the Week. The Hopedale, Mass., native has made a sizable jump between her junior and senior years, moving from an average of 1.96 goals allowed per game to a much stronger 1.01. Her save percentage also made notable strides, from .622 to .731. 

While Hampsch on her own has definitely been more consistent, her defense has been a huge help in the battle. The senior does not rank in the top 50 in Division I for saves per game but does sit at No. 12 in the nation in terms of goals against average. She is not carrying the sizable defensive burden that comes when a goalie is much better than the players around her. Instead, she is making the big plays when she needs to but is also allowing her defense to shoulder a sizable chunk of the workload. 

On the other end of the field, the Duke attack has been excellent this year. Led by sophomore forward Alaina McVeigh, the Blue Devils have averaged 3.29 goals per game. That is an especially impressive number when you consider last year’s average of 2.28. 

McVeigh in particular has been on a tear this season. Bouncing back from a full-season absence in 2022 due to injury, she has scored a goal in six of her seven appearances so far, including an absolute screamer against then-No. 6 Syracuse that earned her a slot in SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays of the day. 

If Duke loses the majority of its games for the rest of this year, it will still be a sound improvement from the 2022 season. Seeing as that is unlikely to happen, this Blue Devil squad looks like the real deal. Just a year after a disappointing campaign, Duke field hockey is back and hungry for more, but there will be plenty of challenges ahead. Top teams in No. 4 Louisville, No. 6 Virginia, No. 2 North Carolina and a multitude of others are on the schedule for the Blue Devils in the upcoming weeks. 

The ACC is probably the strongest conference in the sport, and Duke is going to have a tough time against them. That being said, the Blue Devils look better than they have in years. Right now, the sky is the limit for this squad. If Hampsch can hold down the fort in the back and the offense continues to plow forward like it has thus far, then Duke may be looking at some serious postseason action for the first time since its 2019 NCAA Tournament appearance. 


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