ChronSports' Top 10 of 2023 — No. 4: Duke field hockey conducts miraculous turnaround season, makes Final Four for first time since 2015

Duke players celebrate a goal during their Final Four clash with Northwestern.
Duke players celebrate a goal during their Final Four clash with Northwestern.

As the bow gets tied on 2023, The Chronicle’s sports department is reviewing the biggest storylines in Duke athletics throughout the year. Each day until the calendar flips to January, we will cover two of the most significant moments in Blue Devil sports from 2023.

Coming in at No. 4: Duke field hockey, after two years without a conference win, completely righted the ship, grabbing five ACC victories, a berth in the conference title game and a trip to the Final Four, the Blue Devils' first since 2015. For the full list, click here.

Following the 2022 season, Duke was not expected to have the season it did in 2023. Going without a win in the ACC in 2022, the Blue Devils’ chances of even making the NCAA tournament were up in the air. Needless to say, the Cinderella season that followed surprised almost everyone. 

After soaring to the ACC Championship game in Charlottesville, Va., and falling to North Carolina, Duke headed into the NCAA tournament with redemption in mind. After a first-round defeat of American at home, the Blue Devils took on Syracuse in an attempt to reach their first Final Four since 2015. 

And they succeeded. 

It was a long run for the Blue Devils to even get to the quarterfinals to begin with. Ending the 2022 season 7-11, Duke opened the 2023 season with a huge win against then-No. 3 Maryland in its second game of the season. It sent a message that the it wasn’t the same team it was last season. 

The Blue Devils proceeded to win 11 games in a row, powered by stars such Alaina McVeigh, Hannah Miller and goalie Piper Hampsch, with Hampsch being named ACC Goalie of the Year

This streak included monumental wins against vaunted opponents, such as an overtime winner against then-No. 9 Liberty, which marked Duke’s third win against a ranked opponent. 

While the Orange scored first in the NCAA quarterfinal, Duke was able to tie the game 1-1 before the end of the first half, with sophomore McVeigh scoring with 52 seconds left in the half off a penalty stroke. McVeigh played a huge role for the team all season after being out with an injury in 2022, scoring 17 goals during the season en route to an All-ACC First Team distinction. 

Only 40 seconds into the second half, graduate student Hannah Miller scored the winning goal on a pass from Kira Curland almost 30 yards outside the scoring circle. Duke set its spot in the Final Four by limiting the Orange to only 10 shots the entire game. 

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

Aside from reaching the national semifinals, the Blue Devils also attempted redemption on all of their three regular-season losses — North Carolina, Virginia and Northwestern. While their trip and redemption tour did not turn out to be everything Duke hoped for, falling to the second-seeded Wildcats in the Final Four and the Tar Heels twice between the regular season and ACC tournament final, it was still a milestone moment for the program’s progress. 

“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 … That’s something we can be so proud of,” Miller said. 

Ultimately, the Blue Devils fell just short of further history against Northwestern in the Final Four, ending their Cinderella season two steps short of its fairytale ending.

Especially after two consecutive seasons without a conference win and a drought of a winning overall record that stretched back to 2019, Miller is right that the 2023 campaign is one to be proud of and remembered. Everything finally clicked for Duke — allowing for a monumental season that returned Duke as a threat in field hockey. 

Read more:

Duke field hockey falls to Northwestern in Final Four semifinal heartbreaker, ending its postseason run

No. 2 Duke field hockey performed admirably in defeat to North Carolina, but the power of legacy reigned supreme

No. 2 Duke field hockey rallies against No. 5 Louisville, records 5 ACC wins for first time in school history

‘We’re going to keep climbing’: Exploring Duke field hockey's unexpected rise to national stardom


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