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Old Dominion field hockey coach Beth Anders felt pretty confident that this would be a very good season but she and her team weren't expecting it would be perfect. Thus, the Monarchs can't be overly upset that they suffered their first loss of the year Sunday. After all, it was a heck of a run so far in 2011 for the program that's won the most NCAA titles in this sport (nine) but is seeking its first since 2000.
After a 2-1 overtime loss to No. 7 Duke, the top-ranked Monarchs are now 15-1. They may drop from their No. 1 spot in the coaches' poll, and North Carolina -- which has won 10 games in a row since losing 3-1 to ODU on Sept. 16 -- may move up from being ranked second.
|Old Dominion's Emma Batten scored against Duke but the Blue Devils sent the Monarchs to their first loss of the season, winning 2-1 in overtime.|
Even though Duke is 9-5, it's not such a big surprise that the Blue Devils were the ones to finally put a dent in ODU's flawless record. On Sept. 18, Duke had given the Monarchs a scare in Durham, N.C., before ODU prevailed 3-2 in double overtime.
This time with the match in Norfolk, Va., the Blue Devils got the job done despite statistically being outplayed. The Monarchs had a 17-10 advantage in shots, and had 11 penalty corners to Duke's four. But Duke goalkeeper Samantha Nelson had eight saves on the day, and the Blue Devils' Mary Nielsen scored the winning goal just a half-minute into overtime.
On Friday, ODU defeated last year's NCAA champion Maryland 5-2. It ended the Terps' 39-game home winning streak; they had not lost in College Park, Md., since the 2008 season. It was the second time this fall the Monarchs had clubbed the Terps; they won 4-0 against Maryland at ODU on Sept. 2. So it seemed with that victory Friday on the Terps' turf, maybe nothing was going to stop the Monarchs this season.
But back home on Sunday, ODU ran into a hot goalie and didn't capitalize on having a lot of opportunities.
Maryland and North Carolina have combined to win the last six NCAA titles in field hockey, with Wake Forest winning three in a row before that. All in all, ACC schools have won 16 of the 30 NCAA tournaments in this sport.
Duke, however, is not one of the schools that has taken the national championship. The Blue Devils have come close, though, losing in the NCAA final three years in a row: 2003, '04 and '05.
Among the marquee regular-season games left are Maryland at UNC on Saturday, Connecticut at Syracuse on Sunday and UNC at ODU on Oct. 30. (The No. 4 Huskies and No. 5 Orange are currently both undefeated in Big East play.)
After those matchups and the ACC, Big East and Colonial Athletic Association tournaments, the overall No. 1 seed for November's NCAA tourney will emerge.
On Saturday, top-ranked Illinois had to stop a rally at home, while No. 5 Nebraska had to engineer a comeback on the road. Both teams survived in five-set matches, edging closer to Saturday's potential battle for first in Big Ten volleyball.
The Illini seemed to be cruising against Michigan State in Champaign, Ill., but the Spartans extended the match by winning the third and fourth sets. The Illini went the distance for the sixth time this season, prevailing 15-9 in the decisive set.
Meanwhile, Nebraska was up against the wall Saturday in Minneapolis, down 2-0 to the No. 14 Gophers in front of more than 9,000 fans at Williams Arena. But the Huskers left that big crowd disappointed, as they rallied to win the next three sets.
Before they meet Saturday in Lincoln, Neb., the Illini and the Huskers still have matches to play. Nebraska is host to Iowa on Wednesday, while Illinois goes to Northwestern that night.
• Meanwhile in the Pac-12, Washington had won seven matches in a row and ascended to No. 2 in the national rankings. But a weekend trip to the Bay Area didn't go so well for the Huskies. They lost 3-1 Friday at No. 4 Cal, and 3-0 Saturday at No. 7 Stanford.
USC, ranked No. 3 last week, should move up one notch in this week's poll. The Trojans are atop the Pac-12 standings at 10-1; their visit to Stanford and Cal is Oct. 28-29.
Creighton had recovered from losing its first game -- and giving up its first goal -- of the season. Following that 1-0 loss at Maryland on Sept. 30, the Bluejays won at Wisconsin 2-1 in overtime on Oct. 5, then 1-0 at Indiana Oct. 9.
But then Creighton got surprised in its fourth consecutive road game, falling 1-0 at Missouri State last Wednesday. Back at home in Omaha, Neb., on Saturday, it was time for another comeback from the Bluejays. They won 3-1 over UC Irvine, with all the goals being scored by senior standout Ethan Finlay.
However, it was valuable experience for the Big West-leading Anteaters in terms of getting them ready for the NCAA tournament.
• Tough times continue for preseason No. 1 Louisville. The Cardinals lost 1-0 at St. John's on Saturday and are now 1-3-1 in Big East play, 8-4-1 overall.
Mechelle Voepel is a columnist for ESPN.com. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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