No. 3 Duke field hockey beats American, Syracuse in NCAA tournament, advances to to Final Four

Duke celebrates after the 2-1 NCAA tournament quarterfinals win against Syracuse.
Duke celebrates after the 2-1 NCAA tournament quarterfinals win against Syracuse.

The Blue Devils continued to prove that history is inconsequential compared to the play and unity of a group in key moments: They just keep winning. 

For the first time since 2015, Duke is headed to the semifinals of the NCAA tournament. In a 2-1 win against Syracuse on a brisk Sunday afternoon, the Blue Devils signed their name in the Final Four for only the seventh time in program history as they claimed the regional championship. After a 2-1 win against American Friday with goals from junior Issy Carey and senior Barb Civitella, Duke survived the first round and advanced to face ACC foe Syracuse. 

“We’ve had some tough years where we’ve had to regroup,” said head coach Pam Bustin after the game. “We’ve had to reinvest in what it was that we were about and who we were. They deserve this opportunity for all the work they’ve done. They’ve earned it.” 

Only 10 minutes into the game, the third-seeded Blue Devils already found themselves trailing an unexpected opponent — Syracuse was 2-4 in the ACC during the regular season and squeaked by favored Liberty 2-1 in overtime in the first round. The goal from graduate student Pieke van de Pas had the potential to put Duke on its back foot early into the matchup. 

“You really just want to focus in on what kind of game we need to play, and the team stayed to that. They didn't get off the rails, if you will, in moments where momentum wasn't really going for us, especially after that first goal,” said Bustin. “They just kept going. And that's what I'm most proud of. They just kept grinding and plugging and sticking to the game plan and doing what they were prepared to do.”

Duke gained an opportunity just a minute after the Syracuse goal as it was granted an offensive corner in which freshman Macy Szukics’ shot was blocked, ending the first quarter down by a score. Then, with only 52 seconds left in the first half, the Blue Devils were awarded a penalty stroke. Sophomore Alaina McVeigh, who had scored 16 goals this season entering Sunday’s game, was a no-brainer for the shot. She drilled it into the lower right corner.

“I was just telling myself to stay calm and pick my spot … just do what I’ve done a bunch of times before,” said McVeigh. 

While Duke was able to tie the game just before halftime with the penalty-stroke goal from McVeigh, the first 30 minutes were by no means perfect. 

“We had some tough calls that kind of frustrated us a little bit, but we had to let it go. We had to let it go and come out and just continue to play with courage and attack on the front foot,” said Bustin.

And it worked. 

Just 20 seconds into the second half, the combination of junior Logan Clouser intercepting a Syracuse defensive players’ pass and McVeigh drawing a foul allowed junior Kira Curland an open look for a beautiful hit from just inside the 25-yard mark. The hit from Curland, which originated far outside the circle, was just barely redirected by graduate student Hannah Miller on its way into the goal, giving Duke a quick 2-1 lead. Miller’s tap was so subtle that the score was extensively reviewed, but upheld. 

The Blue Devils did not lack offensive opportunities Sunday as they registered 10 shots, six on goal, but one thing that really shone was Duke’s transition defense, as it limited Syracuse’s possessions with blocks and interrupted passes whenever the Orange tried to work the ball into Duke’s defensive zone. 

“It [transition defense] needs to continue to improve, especially as you go deeper into the season. I was extremely proud of our transition defense today. We were very professional and disciplined in how we anticipated that,” said Bustin. 

Neither Duke nor the work it has to do is done. Left in the tournament are the biggest skeletons in the Blue Devils’ closet from this season: Virginia, North Carolina and Northwestern. The three other teams in the Final Four represent every single one of Duke’s losses. 

“We’re just going to enjoy this and wait to see what the final is, and we’ll get right back to work,” Bustin said. 

Regardless of how the Final Four goes, the 2023 Duke field hockey team has etched its place into the history books and onto at least one banner at Jack Katz Stadium. 

At the beginning of the season, the Blue Devils were nowhere near predicted to make a deep tournament run as they hadn’t even qualified for the tournament since 2019. The development of the 2023 team was not a quick process, as the foundation was laid seasons ago

“Everyone bought in for a year and a half, all spring we worked towards improving our basic skills and execution for it to show in these final hard moments,” said Miller. “That’s something we can be so proud of” 

As Duke heads to Chapel Hill next weekend to take on No. 2-seed Northwestern, it will have its past players in mind. 

“We played for each other. We played for the girls that came before and we’re not done yet,” said Miller. 


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