Callie Humphrey is a staple on the ever-changing, steadily evolving Duke defense.
The sophomore defender has started all but one game, and on Saturday, she showed why she has to be on the field for the Blue Devils. Humphrey was assigned to faceguard Syracuse’s second-leading scorer and held Nicole Levy without a point or shot while equaling her career-high with four ground balls in then-unranked Duke’s 17-10 win over then-No. 13 Orange.
“It’s pretty exciting obviously,” Humphrey said. “It just feels good to know that I did my job more than anything. The recognition is great because defense can’t put points up on the board like the offense does, but at the same time, I feel the best when I’m doing whatever I can for my team.”
Humphrey was named the IWLCA National Defensive Player of the Week as well as the ACC Defensive Player of the Week after helping Duke vault into the Top 20 at No. 16 and pick up a much needed win to improve to 7-4 overall and 2-2 in the ACC.
“We were able to come out hungry in that game because we put in so much hard work in practice that week and we were really tough on each other and really vocal,” Humphrey said. “The biggest reward is knowing that our hard work showed on the field and on the scoreboard.”
It was their biggest win since stopping Northwestern on Feb. 18.
Some of Duke’s hard work hadn’t been necessarily showing up on the scoreboard. The Blue Devils fell to Penn and Virginia in the previous two weekends leading up to their breakout win at Syracuse.
“We’ve been quietly building toward that,” said Duke coach Kerstin Kimel. “As we looked at this year, I think we’ve been very realistic with our team. We play a lot of freshmen, and a lot of our depth is freshmen or less experienced players. Quite honestly, the up-and-down nature of our performance hasn’t been surprising.
“What was hard in our losses to both Penn and Virginia is, we took a big hit defensively and graduated a lot there and in our midfield, and I think we’ve made really good progress at that end of the field. We played good enough defense against both Penn and Virginia. Both games, our goalies made double digit saves and we had enough stops to win the games. What we weren’t doing on the other end of the field is we weren’t finishing our shots.”
Duke’s offense had a more focused effort against Syracuse.
Brine/US Lacrosse Player of the Week Olivia Jenner had four goals to go with seven draw controls, Kyra Harney had four goals, Grace Fallon had six points on a goal and five assists, and Charlotte North had three goals as the offense connected on 17-of-35 shots. Duke, which leads the country in draw controls per game, held a 20-9 advantage in the midfield, held an edge in ground balls and caused 10 turnovers.
“What you saw this weekend was we kind of put together everything,” Kimel said. “The big thing that stood out to me in our game was we created so many possessions for ourselves, not just on the draw, but in 50-50 situations or situations where we forced Syracuse to shoot. Whether there was a save or the shot missed the cage, or we got a piece of the shot, it was mostly our defenders that created 12 possessions for us on Saturday.
“We were really relentless in those situations and it gave us confidence,” Kimel added. “We were creating opportunities for ourselves to have possessions again. Finally for us, we had a great week of practice translate to a game.”
Jamie Lockwood started her second game of the season in goal, but gave way to Gabbe Cadoux, who was coming off a concussion, just before halftime. Cadoux finished with six saves in front of a defense that has changed its parts plenty this year while looking for its best lineup. Consider Gigi Vasile, a freshman who won ACC Defensive Player of the Week in the first week of the year, hasn’t even played in three of the last four games.
“They’ve been an incredibly unselfish unit,” Kimel said. “They get that they may not start or may not play much in a week because there’s not a great matchup for me. If you’re doing well on the field, you’re not just going to pull kids in a game. You’re going to keep the chemistry going if you feel people are moving and sliding well. We’ve made an example of them as a unit with how selfless they are. That group has been very unselfish for us. They kind of don’t care. They just want the job done. We’ve had kids going from playing 10 minutes in a game to starting and having a huge matchup and doing really well. … The depth and versatility is a strength of ours right now.”
Kimel says even though they are young, it’s the deepest group of defenders she’s had.
Humphrey has been a regular in the lineup even going back to last year. Junior Charlotte Tucci has played in all 11 games, while another junior, Michelle Staggers, only returned to the lineup from injury two weeks ago. Duke started a freshman, Natalie Kahn, against Virginia. Anne Slusser, a senior with 35 games of experience coming into the season, has rotated in along with Vasile and Jackie Perry.
“Anne had a great game against Syracuse,” Kimel said. “She’s a senior who’s played a lot for us, and she’s had some games where she hasn’t seen the field. You would never know with how she’s acted. She just gets it and she’s really unselfish.”
The Blue Devils have found a formula that is starting to pay off at the defensive end. Duke relies on a midfield that is young, too, with freshmen Abby Landry, Cat Barry, Katie Cronin and Katie Cosgrove mixing in with sophomore Lindsey Reynolds, junior Ellie Majure and senior stalwart Maddie Crutchfield.
“We’re all mixed up during practice, so I think we’re all pretty used to playing with whomever whenever,” Humphrey said. “We have a set of standards for every single defensive player when you’re out there, whether it’s me in the faceguard or someone else. … Whom I’m playing with doesn’t worry me because I think we all hold each other to a pretty high standard.”
Humphrey, whose sister Stuart graduated after playing for Duke last year, has taken on more responsibilities this year after starting 12 of the 17 games in 2017, leading by example and being vocal. She already has more ground balls in 2018, leading Duke with 23, and has a team-high 12 caused turnovers.
“We had a pretty solid senior (Devon Russell) who did most of our faceguarding last year,” Humphrey said. “I don’t think I did at all last year, which was great, because I felt like I got to learn the key fundamentals of team defense before stepping into that role where you’re not as involved with the slide packages. This year has been kind of a whole new thing for me.”
Humphrey was one of the returning players hoping to help Duke rebuild after going 8-9 last year and missing out on the NCAA tournament. Having a young defense was a big concern for Kimel and her staff going in.
“We tried to do some things that were a little outside the box early on, but we quickly realized we’re too young for that,” Kimel said. “The hope is if we feel better about some fundamental things, we can grow and build on that as we get further into the season. Whether that gives us the ability to change things up because we want to, or out of necessity, we will see. Continuing to be flexible and versatile, if we continue to grow and get better and have confidence, hopefully that means we can build our versatility as the season progresses.”
Duke has been through its share of growing pains since its season opener when it held Elon to nine goals, but there has been growth and increasing confidence.
“The biggest thing about our defense is we seem to improve every single game in little ways,” Humphrey said. “If the game before we weren’t talking, I can hear everyone’s voice the next game, or if the slide wasn’t there, it’s there the next game. That’s been the cornerstone of our team this year. We’re young and we’re little by little making improvements each game.”
Said Kimel: “Our Virginia Tech game, we looked like a really young unit. We were on our heels the entire game. Things were happening fast. Progressively, every week, that group has gotten even better. We’ll have our hands full this week with Boston College. There’s no doubt about that. We’re going to get tested this weekend for sure.”
No. 2 Boston College will bring the nation’s highest scoring offense to Durham, N.C., this Saturday. A year ago, Duke beat the eventual NCAA finalist for its biggest win of the year.
“The beginning of the week, we have to focus on ourselves and making ourselves better before we worry about any opponent,” Humphrey said. “If we come play our game the way we’re supposed to and our toughest, most hungry game, then I think there’s a chance to beat anyone in the country. But you have to put in the hard work before you can make any claims like that.”