Duke Looks to Bounce Back from Rare Losing Season

PHOTO BY PEYTON WILLIAMS

Junior Olivia Jenner recorded 103 ground balls in 2017, leading the team and finishing 10th in the country in draw controls per game.


US Lacrosse Magazine released the Nike/US Lacrosse Division I Women’s Preseason Top 20 on Jan. 8. Team-by-team previews will be unveiled on uslaxmagazine.com throughout January and will also appear as part of the magazine’s NCAA preview edition that mails to US Lacrosse members Feb. 1 — opening day of the 2018 college lacrosse season.

No. 19 Duke

2017 Record: 8-9 (1-6 ACC)
Coach: Kerstin Kimel (23rd season)
All-Time Record: 276-141
NCAA Appearances: 19
Final Fours: 7
Championships: 0

Duke women’s lacrosse endured something last season that it hadn’t in more than two decades — a losing season. After falling to North Carolina in the ACC quarterfinals, the Blue Devils finished 8-9 on the year and missed the NCAA tournament for just the third time in program history. Duke last finished below .500 in 1996, its inaugural season.

Kerstin Kimel, the Blue Devils’ coach since their inception, called it “probably the toughest season we’ve ever had.” Duke finished with just one ACC win, over a Boston College team that made a surprise run to the national championship game. 

The 2017 season was a disappointment for the Blue Devils, who have been eagerly awaiting the next one. With an offensive core that remains mostly in tact and a strong freshman class, this season could prove to be the bounce back for which Kimel and company are looking.

“One of the great opportunities you have by having a season like last year is that you have a chance to reevaluate the things you are doing and look at what you want to do differently,” said Kimel, who has led Duke to the NCAA tournament 19 times, including final four appearances in 1999, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2011 and 2015.

Although it finished 70th in Division I in scoring offense, Duke gets another year with leading scores Kyra Harney (30 goals, 20 assists) and Maddie Crutchfield (32 goals, 17 assists). Both were freshmen when the Blue Devils advanced to the final four in 2015. Not to mention, attacker Olivia Jenner is back after finishing in the top 10 in draw controls per game last season.

Kimel cited freshmen like Catriona Barry (Napa, Calif.) and Charlotte North (Dallas, Texas) as potentially contributing on the Duke offense from day one. It’s a 10-player freshman class that will help fill the holes left by the 10 seniors that graduated last season.

The core of Harney, Jenner, Crutchfield, Catherine Cordrey and Grace Fallon— and the additions of talented freshmen — could lead to a much-improved offense.

“All of those kids are a year older,” Kimel said of the returners. “We’ve tried to simplify some of our schemes just to help the freshmen get incorporated a little quicker and easier, and that helped. In terms of generating looks and opportunities offensively, this fall we did a good job.”

But the defense will need to take strides early on in 2018 for Duke to compete with some of the top teams in the country. Three starters, including All-ACC selection Maura Schwitter, are gone from the defense which will face 10 teams that made the NCAA tournament last year.

The 2018 season won’t come without its challenges for the Blue Devils, but Kimel and her team are hungry to flip the script from the disappointing season of last year.






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The Case For Duke

Yes, last season did not go as anyone had hoped at Duke. However, the Blue Devils return many of the stars on the offensive end, including six of the top seven scorers. Not to mention, Olivia Jenner is back after finishing 10th in the country in draw controls per game. The more this team has the ball, the more effective this offense could work.

The Case Against Duke

Duke struggled to score and to stop other teams from scoring last season. The offense might be back, but the Blue Devils lose a couple starters on defense, including Schwitter, Devon Russell and Isabelle Montagne. With an ACC schedule that will include North Carolina and Boston College — two teams that finished in the top 10 in scoring offense — the Blue Devils will need to find new defensive contributors quickly. “They’ll be more of a work in progress,” Kimel said of the defense. “We wanted to see what they had [this fall]. We just put them out there at times to see what they can do.”

Path to the Playoffs

Duke opens its season with a few games against teams not included in the preseason top 20, which could help the Blue Devils tally a few wins before ACC play. But what this season will boil down to is conference play, where Duke will have to compete with some of the top teams in the nation. If Kimel’s group can compete and pull an upset or two in ACC play (and beat Northwestern on Feb. 18), it could be looking at a return to prominence on the national scene.

Players To Watch

Maddie Crutchfield, M, Sr.
32G, 17A

Crutchfield led the team in goals last season and made the All-ACC Second Team as a result. She’s one of the leaders of the Duke offense, and will continue to climb the program’s all-time ranks as the 2018 season progresses.

Kyra Harney, A, Sr.
30G, 20A

Harney bested her teammate, Crutchfield, with 50 points in the 2017 season, also leading the team in shots. She’ll continue to be a facilitator for the Duke offense and help lift the offense up.

Olivia Jenner, A, Jr.
20G, 6.06 DC per game

Jenner finished in the top 10 in Division I draw controls per game, helping give a boost to the rest of the Duke offense. She should maintain that number, if not add to it, in 2018.

National Rankings

Category

Rank

Value

Offense 70th 11.24GPG
Defense 43rd 11.24GPG
Draws 19th 14.41/game
Ground Balls 68th 17.65/game
Caused TO 56th 8.94/game
Shooting 38th 43.9%
FP Shooting 38th 44.6%
Yellow Cards 35th 32
Assists 63rd 4.94/game
Turnovers 72nd 17.59/game
Shots 85th 25.59/game

Power Ratings (Scale of 1-5)

Offense
⭐⭐⭐

Defense
⭐⭐⭐

Goalkeeping
⭐⭐

Draw
⭐⭐⭐⭐

19

Consecutive winning seasons before 2017, when the Blue Devils finished with a losing record for just the second time in program history. It was also just the third time Duke missed the NCAA tournament.

5-Year Trend
Scoring Defense

Year

Rank

Per Game

2013 24th 8.95
2014 40th 9.84
2015 12th 8.00
2016 31st 8.60
2017 43rd 11.24

Coach Confidential
Kerstin Kimel

“For us. not just making the tournament, but performing well in the tournament is always our goal and our expectation. It’s up to our staff to get us to that position and obviously the team’s responsibility to play up to their potential. That kind of dual effort is something we work toward all year.”

Enemy Lines
Rival Coaches

“Duke will be better on offense this year. They struggled a bit on offense last year, but return their three leading scorers from last year. They also return Olivia Jenner, who won 114 draw controls. ...  They did have a tough year. We beat them really easily. It was shocking to me. I didn’t see them play much later. They have a couple great senior returners. They’re going to want to go out on a high note. ... They have to have a chip on their shoulder after not making the NCAA tournament for the first time in some ridiculous amount of years, right? I can see their offense being a strength. I don’t want to say their backs are up against the wall, but they have to prove themselves, and I would think they are going to come out swinging.”

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