DURHAM, N.C. – Coming off of a season that saw the Blue Devils reach the NCAA championship match for the fourth time in program history and first since 2005, the Duke field hockey team took to the turf Thursday morning to open preseason training. The squad will practice for two weeks and conduct two exhibition contests before kicking off the 2014 campaign Friday, Aug. 29 at Michigan State.
Under the direction of 2013 National Field Hockey Coaches Association (NFHCA) South Region Coach of the Year Pam Bustin, Duke returns 13 letterwinners and six starters from last year’s team, which compiled a 17-7 ledger and finished the national runners-up. The Blue Devils will look to replace eight seniors from that squad, including a pair of two-time All-Americans in defender Paula Heimbach and forward Emmie Le Marchand.
“We had tremendous leadership last year in a class of eight seniors," Bustin said. "To have three seniors this year and have the juniors step up as well has been awesome. We worked on it all spring and I think they’re confident coming in to lead these seven new freshmen in the way Duke True wants to play and the kind of culture we want on this team.”
Redshirt junior goalkeeper Lauren Blazing returns after ranking fifth nationally in save percentage and garnering third team All-America accolades during a breakout season in 2013. Fresh off of being named to the U.S. women’s national field hockey roster, Blazing will be joined on defense by junior Amanda Kim, who was an All-South Region pick last fall along with junior midfielder Aileen Johnson. Senior Abby Beltrani also returns to the midfield while classmate Jessica Buttinger will look to lead the Blue Devils’ attack with sophomore Heather Morris and senior Martine Chichizola, who missed the 2013 campaign due to injury.
“The newcomers are coming in already with a great knowledge of the game and a great level of physical fitness," Bustin said. "A lot of them were here taking courses in the summer so I think they got their feet wet as far as being comfortable on campus and getting to know their teammates. For us now, it’s a matter of making sure we make that same connection on the field within our play.”
Duke will play eight contests at Williams Field at Jack Katz Stadium this fall, in addition to hosting the ACC Championship for the first time since 2008. The squad will be in pursuit of the program’s third NCAA Tournament appearance under the guidance of Bustin and her staff.
The Blue Devils begin exhibition play Sunday, Aug. 17 in a 1 p.m. matchup against Davidson in Durham. Duke will also host ACC opponent North Carolina in an exhibition contest Sunday, Aug. 24 at 1 p.m. at Williams Field at Jack Katz Stadium.
For the latest news on the Duke field hockey program, follow the Blue Devils on Twitter (@Duke_FH).