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.”
New players to watch: Maggie Kondrath & Josephine Veen
Duke is not lacking incoming talent this season, especially among its freshmen. This includes forward Maggie Kondrath who earned a spot on the U15 USA Indoor Women’s National Team, and Josephine Veen from Zeist, the Netherlands. Veen is following in the footsteps of her parents who both played professionally in the Netherlands, with her father winning two Olympic gold medals.
“She’s a real smart player,” Bustin said of Veen. “We’re looking forward to having her around.”
Unfortunately, the Blue Devils lost an incoming player before the season even started in freshman midfielder Sophia Miller, who tore her ACL over the summer. With Miller out for the foreseeable future, keep an eye on her fellow freshmen to add some spark for the Blue Devils. – Anna Newberry
Returning players to watch: Hannah Miller & Mary Harkins
Similar to last year, now-graduate student Miller has returned to lead the Blue Devils on the field, with fellow graduate student Mary Harkins at her side. Last season Miller led the team in total points at 25 and was a consistent figure on the turf as she played all 18 games. Harkins, at her position of back, also provided consistency as she started 17 of 18 games and prover her aptitude when it matters most with a game-deciding defensive save in Duke’s 1-0 win against Saint Joseph’s last season.
The duo were both 2022 team captains, with Bustin expressing her gratitude at having their “leadership back in their maturity and experience playing in the ACC level.” Miller and Harkins are far from done in Bustin’s eyes, as she vows to “continue to push them because they have more to grow.”
Most anticipated matchups: at Maryland, Sept. 1, & vs. Northwestern, Sept. 3
In the exact same matchup as last season, Duke will face both Northwestern and Maryland at the annual ACC/Big Ten matchup in September. Bustin expressed the importance of every matchup this season, and the “opportunity to get out there and make the result different with the same kind of intensity and same kind of attention that they had last year.” However, the matchups with Northwestern and Maryland — consistently two of the nation’s top programs — give the Blue Devils the opportunity to switch the narrative and get their season off to a strong start. -Newberry
After finishing last season 7-11 and without a win in the ACC, the best-case scenario for the Blue Devils would be ending the season above .500. Even better would be the ability to cement their position within the ACC by collecting a few wins within the conference, though anything more feels unlikely. -Newberry
Despite the new talent and many returning players from last season, Duke’s success this season could be predicated on performing well during crucial points in tight matchups. If they fail to do so, they could be ranked again at the bottom of the ACC and end with a losing record. –Kannoth
Newberry: 8-10 (1-5 in the ACC), loss in ACC quarterfinals
Kannoth: 10-8 (3-3 in the ACC), loss in ACC semifinals
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