Nike/LM NCAA Preview: No. 12 Duke (Women)
A senior-laden squad led Duke to the NCAA final four a year ago. There's rebuilding to do in Durham, but this is a program that has reached the NCAA quarterfinals 11 straight years.
Kelsey Duryea is entering her fourth year as the starter in goal and could be ready to dominate in a starring role as Duke builds experience over the course of the season.
Duke at a Glance
2015 Record: 16-5
3 Big Things
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
Duke’s 8.0 goals per game allowed last year was the best in the program’s last five years, and marked just the second time in that period that they ranked among the Top 20 nationally.
1. Yes, they have a lot of holes to fill.
There’s no way around it – Duke has a lot of holes to fill on the offensive side of the ball. Nine different Blue Devils scored at least 10 points last year, and only three of them are back. The top four scorers are gone. The top four cogs on the draw unit, which won 54 percent last year, are gone.
But, this is still Duke. The Blue Devils trip to the semifinal round last season was its 11th consecutive trip to at least the NCAA quarterfinals.
“I’m excited about the challenge of having such a young group,” said Kimel. “It’s really fun to coach these young teams and it’s rewarding to watch them grow.”
Duke is also not devoid of talent or experience on offense. Up front, Kyra Harney had 46 points as a freshman starter last year and Kelci Smesko, a two-year starter, returns after missing last year with a hip injury. Maddy Acton has scored 50 goals as a three-year fixture in the midfield rotation and Maddie Crutchfield had 13 goals as a rookie starter.
2. The Blue Devils defense could be special.
Playing one of the nation’s most challenging schedules, Duke ranked 12th in the country in scoring defense last season. Kelsey Duryea will be a four-year starter in goal. Claire Scarrone was an all-region honoree and anchors a unit that returns juniors Isabelle Montagne, Devon Russell, and Maura Schwitter. All three of those players started at least 10 games last season and have been regulars in the lineup their first two seasons.
3. Expect peaks and valleys.
Duke won its first nine games last season and only lost back-to-back games once all year. Kimel doesn’t expect things to go as smoothly this year.
“Given our schedule, our group is going to have to endure some ups and downs that we didn’t see last year,” said Kimel. “We have the talent and athleticism to get to the same place, but we might have to take a different route.”
They don’t have to look far for inspiration. The Blue Devils share locker room space with Duke’s women’s soccer team. The soccer team also featured a young group, but they rallied to reach the NCAA finals.
“They had a stretch where they really struggled to score goals, but lo and behold, they ended up in the national championship game,” said Kimel. “Our girls have said they are a great role model to look up to.”
* returning starters
Duryea had a bounce back year, leading the ACC and ranking 11th in the country with a 7.84 goals against average to earn second team all-region and all-ACC honors. Entering her fourth year as a starter, she has the ability to dominate games and is playing behind a veteran defensive unit.
The 5-foot-10 rookie from national powerhouse McDonogh (Md.) figures to be a major factor on the draw for Duke, which lost four seniors who played a major role in that facet of the game. A US Lacrosse All-American, she also has the ability to boost the offense.
She earned all-region honors last year, so she’s not entirely a secret, but Duke coach Kerstin Kimel doesn’t think Scarrone gets the respect nationally that her play warrants. Even with Duke’s big senior class last year, Scarrone was one of the team’s captains as a junior. That speaks volumes about her importance to the team
Claire Scarrone was a junior captain on last year's senior-dominated Duke team. The all-region defender will be a key to Duke's success in 2016. (John Strohsacker)
Biggest Question Mark
Who fills Maurer's shoes?
Duke lost a great senior class, but no loss was bigger than first team All-American Kerrin Mauer. Maurer led Duke in goals (43), assists (31), points (74) and draw controls (81).
What rival coaches say about the Blue Devils
"Duke looks like it will take a step back in 2016 after graduating its top four scorers from a year ago. A young team in the ACC is never an easy proposition."
"Has something to prove. Had a great year in 2015 playing with emotion for their coach and their big and talented senior class. Now another group of players will need to step up."
"Significant losses in key positions, as well as on-field leadership. Well coached. Should find footing midway through the year."
"I think they are going to be strong. I think they had a really great season last year, and once you kind of get that moment where you get some success, you can usually build off it. I think they lost some key people, but I really do think they will be extremely strong."
"That’s going to be a team that starts at one point and only gets better as the season goes along."
Number of returning players that took more than 25 shots (Kyra Harney, 46) during Duke’s 21-game season last year.
February 20 at USC
Duke ended USC’s storybook season in the second round of the NCAA tournament last year. USC has almost everyone back, while Duke is reloading. This game will be a good litmus test of how much work Duke will have to do before the grueling ACC grind begins.
Playing in the Ivy
Duke's schedule will have a little bit of an Ivy flavor this season. The Blue Devils, who knocked Princeton out of the NCAA tournament last year, host Penn on February 28 and then travel to New York City for a March 16 date at Columbia.
Duke has reached the NCAA quarterfinals 11 straight years. This isn’t the first time they’ve suffered heavy graduation losses, so expect the Blue Devils to remain among the nation’s elite.
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