It was a bit of a rocky road last year for Duke. After a stellar 2022 regular season that featured a consistent top-10 ranking, the Blue Devils struggled pretty immediately in the postseason, falling in their first matchup of the ACC tournament and in their second of the NCAA tournament. The disappointment only continued into 2023. Conference play was Duke’s Achilles’ Heel. After a 6-2 ACC slate in 2022, the Blue Devils ended at 1-8 in the 2023 regular season.
“You can take absolutely nobody in our conference for granted,” head coach Kerstin Kimel told The Chronicle.
A few of the biggest names from last year’s (and the four years prior) roster are gone, namely attacker and draw control specialist Maddie Jenner. The McDonogh product has both the career draw control record and the top three single-season tallies in Duke history. New assistant coach Sarah Cooper has been working on the draw control game plan this season. Six players have been working in that rotation thus far, but it will be a new look for the Blue Devils on the circle this year.
Goalie Sophia LeRose, who spent nearly all of last season battling a POTS diagnosis, also left the program after her five years of eligibility were up. Redshirt sophomore Kennedy Everson, who was out last year after having hip surgery, and Courtney Kaufman, a graduate transfer from Tufts, are the current frontrunners for that starting spot, though the depth between the pipes this year is considerable.
On the other end of the field, senior Katie DeSimone, the last two seasons’ highest goalscorer, will lead the offense once again. She currently sits at 15th in the program’s career record book in the stat, and while Katie Chrest Erbe’s top slot is likely out of reach, DeSimone is sure to jump a few spots.
All in all, with eight freshmen and seven incoming transfers, it will be a brand-new team playing in Koskinen Stadium. Tabbed with a No. 24 preseason ranking and with a “nice home schedule for ACC games,” as Kimel put it, Duke will look to bounce back from its shaky 2023 and rise back into contention in the best conference in women’s lacrosse. -Rachael Kaplan
Notable departures: Maddie Jenner and Cubby Biscardi
Maddie Jenner was prolific at attack for Duke with 29 goals and nine assists last season, ranking third and fifth on the team, respectively, but perhaps nowhere will her absence be felt more than in the draw circle. Jenner broke the NCAA single-season draw control record in 2022 and continued that momentum into last year, breaking the all-time draw control record in just the third game of the season and topping the country in draw controls per game when it was all said and done. She single-handedly won possessions for Duke and her 6-foot-2 frame often gave her a physical advantage on her defenders, allowing her to charge into the eight-meter and bury shots in the back of the net. The Inside Lacrosse First Team All-American and two-time Tewaaraton Award nominee’s dominance on the circle and ability to find the net was a bright spot in Duke’s otherwise sputtering offense, and finding a way to maintain possession with a new arsenal of players will be key this season if the Blue Devils want to emerge in April with a winning record.
Cubby Biscardi anchored Duke’s defense for the past three seasons, leading the ACC in caused turnovers in 2023 and 2022 and collecting All-ACC Second Team and All-American honorable mention honors along the way. Winning possessions on the circle last season was her forte and she was second only to Jenner for most draw controls on the team. She kept the Blue Devils alive in close games like those against Yale, Clemson and Louisville even when Duke’s attack couldn’t convert on the other end, and she was frequently tasked with marking the opposing team’s best player. In the ACC, this meant the best attackers in the country. She left Durham fifth in program history in caused turnovers with 110, and the success of the Blue Devils’ season hinges on the ability of other players to step up on defense. -Audrey Davies
New player to watch: Bella Goodwin
Duke’s top-rated prospect in its recruiting class comes in the form of 5-foot-4 midfielder Bella Goodwin out of Basking Ridge, N.J. Since arriving on campus, the No. 7 freshman has been moved into an attacking role by Kimel as she looks to fill the offensive gaps exposed last season and worsened by key departures. Goodwin’s impressive high school resume includes 250 goals and 143 assists, the New Jersey Midfielder of the Year award, two USA Lacrosse All-American honors and one First Team All-State selection. She holds school records for both career and single-season goals and points, and her goalscoring prowess will bring new energy to the Blue Devil offense as it faces stiff ACC competition. -Davies
Returning player to watch: Carly Bernstein
In the 2023 season, Carly Bernstein saw her impact on the field soar. The junior has transformed from a promising rookie to a dynamic attacker. In 2022, Bernstein saw limited minutes, playing in just four games with one assist and one goal. It was the next year where her presence was truly felt. She became a seasoned attacker, playing in all 18 games. Her stats, too, skyrocketed, even in a season where the Blue Devils had trouble finding the back of the net and winning conference games. She boasted an impressive 20 goals and 15 assists with three hat tricks, a tally that moved her to fourth on the team in total points. As the 2024 season arrives, all eyes will be on the Short Hills, N.J., native as she continues to improve Duke’s offense as a playmaker and a pure goalscorer. -Riya Khatod
Most anticipated matchup: at North Carolina, April 18
This shouldn’t come as any surprise. Last season, even after blowout losses to Boston College and Syracuse, two of the consensus top three in the ACC, the Blue Devils kept it within one against the then-sixth-ranked Tar Heels in a Senior Night heartbreaker. Duke hasn’t beaten North Carolina since 2014. However, if Kimel can get this Blue Devil squad back on track and playing to its full potential (and with a 1-8-sized chip on its shoulder), this might just be the year. No matter the result, the rivalry matchup always carries with it a larger-than-life aura. These teams are no strangers to each other’s play; after facing off in the fall, all eyes will be on the familiar foes in Chapel Hill come April 18. -Kaplan
Despite Duke’s showing in 2023, a host of factors — including injuries and illnesses — precluded the team from ever operating at full strength. This year, with a combination of veteran experience and young dynamite, the Blue Devils return to national prominence. Coming into the season ranked No. 24, Duke ascends the IWLCA poll as a strong contender, featuring attacking excellence and a more stringent defense capable of executing stops against top teams. Even in a stacked ACC that features perennial powerhouses like Boston College and North Carolina, the Blue Devils compete well among the best of the best and earn a top-three finish in the conference. Having prepared against elite competition, Duke makes a deep run into the postseason and proves its previous dismal showing on the national stage was just a fluke. -Mackenzie Sheehy
The Blue Devils have a repeat performance of last year. The losses of Jenner and others are too great, and the team can’t jell with a myriad of experienced players, transfers and veterans. Even if injuries aren’t a problem, Kimel’s squad fails to click again defensively and can’t prevent other programs from racking up goals. The offense doesn’t find a way to make up the difference, and Duke goes on to lose most, if not all, of its ACC games to rank in the bottom three of the conference. The Blue Devils make an early exit from the conference tournament again and fail to qualify for the NCAA tournament once more. -Sheehy
Kaplan: 11-6 (5-4 in ACC), loss in ACC quarterfinals, loss in NCAA first round
Sheehy: 12-5 (5-4), loss in ACC quarterfinals, loss in NCAA quarterfinals
Davies: 13-4 (5-4), loss in ACC quarterfinals, loss in NCAA quarterfinals
Khatod: 12-5 (6-3), loss in ACC quarterfinals, loss in NCAA quarterfinals
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Rachael Kaplan is a Trinity junior and sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.
Mackenzie Sheehy is a Trinity sophomore and Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.