The Road to Oklahoma City starts here.


2023 Fall Report: Duke

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Duke head coach Marissa Young has always empowered her staff and players to take action and make decisions. Her goal is not just to build strong athletes, but strong leaders.

Young witnessed the value of those actions this fall.

As Young dealt with a family medical emergency, the Blue Devils provided support every step of the way.

Only a few days after Duke was eliminated by Stanford in the NCAA Super Regional last spring, Young’s husband, James, was fighting for his life.

James, the head of the Lady Dukes travel organization, suffered a major heart attack. He ignored the symptoms for two weeks. By the time he reached the hospital, the pressure from the back up had blown a hole in his heart.

He underwent multiple surgeries to repair his heart, and was placed on the transplant list. James was on life support for 17 days while his family kept vigil by his side.

He received a dual organ transplant in late July, receiving a new heart and kidney. His life was saved, but the damage to his body was still extensive.

“He had significant blood loss to his feet and fingers, so that is what we are dealing with now,” Young said. “He had all his fingers amputated and parts of his feet. He’s having weekly surgeries to reconstruct those so he can walk again.”

Through it all, Young and her children were riding an emotional roller coaster. They leaned on their faith to help them through. There were college commitments, graduations and life milestones achieved while praying the man they loved most would pull through.

Young took a leave of absence this fall to care for her husband. She still comes to the facility twice a week, but has largely left everything to assistant coaches Olivia Watkins and Taylor Wike and director of player development Nicole Schaffer.

“I didn’t want to hold the team back. I didn’t know how often or how consistent I could be there, so I just really turned the reins over to Coach Liv and Taylor and Coach Nicole,” Young said. “They took it and ran with it. It was hard on me to be away, but wonderful to see the progress the team was making and how everyone was thriving.”

It helps that Duke’s roster largely returns intact from a team that finished 48-12 and 19-5 in the ACC (second place) last season. The Blue Devils only lost one player. 

“I am really excited about this team. They love to compete. We had a lot of young impact players last year who are back with a lot of confidence from their experience,” Young said. “They had an outstanding fall against some really good competition and they are ready to go with the postseason in mind.”

Young expects to return full time in January. Although the home Super Regional loss to Stanford was hard to handle, her husband’s health scare quickly put the disappointment into perspective. 

If Duke had advanced to Oklahoma City, James may not have received the care he did so quickly and Young may not have been there to help.

These past few months have taught Young a lot, and her softball family has provided more validation of why she loves to coach.

“It was bittersweet as the boss when everything is going so well without you being there. But at the same time, people say leadership is about how everyone does when you leave the room,” Young said. “Our coaches have been phenomenal stepping up and our players had the mission to ‘work for you coach and not let you down.’ We are going to keep this thing going.”


The Blue Devils didn’t have many holes to fill given all the returning starters they brought back. Their four newcomers will provide additional depth.

The player expected to have the most immediate impact is right-handed pitcher Dani Drogemuller. The graduate transfer from Pitt arrives with a career ERA of 3.97, 306 strikeouts and 147 walks in 310.0 innings pitched for the Panthers. Drogemuller’s best season was in 2022, when she finished 8-13 with a 3.51 ERA in 28 appearances.

“She is a bulldog and a workhorse,” Young said. “What I love about Dani is she could have transferred to pitch anywhere in the country, and the fact she came to Duke when we had both of our pitchers back really says to me that she is about winning. She wants to be a part of a winning program and she is not afraid of competing for playing time.”

Sophomore outfielder Aleyah Terrell is the other transfer. The North Carolina native started 24 games last season at Boston College, batting .219 with 16 hits and seven runs scored in 73 at-bats. Terrell’s speed as a pinch runner will be utilized at Duke. 

Amiah Burgess and Linh Le are the incoming freshmen. Burgess is outfielder with a lefty bat from Texas and Le is a corner infielder from Northern California. Both made significant strides during the fall and will continue to grow and learn behind the veterans.


The entire staff returns, led by aces Cassidy Curd and Jala Wright.

Curd was one of the top freshmen in the country last season, and came through in critical starts for the Blue Devils. 

The sophomore left-hander finished 18-3 with a 1.65 ERA, 159 strikeouts and 52 walks in 127.1 innings pitched. Curd had a 0.91 WHIP and her batting average against was just .146. She threw a no-hitter against Clemson in the ACC Championship semifinals

“She was a big shock to a lot of people. Nobody knew who Cassidy Curd was before she came and really took the world by storm,” Young said. “The challenge for her is to continue to develop herself and be able to have success when people know she is and have video and data on her.  She needs to continue to develop and have success now that she is not the new kid on the block.”

As the returning ace following the graduation of Peyton St. George last season, Wright hit a few bumps in the road. She finished 12-4 with a 2.51 ERA, 127 strikeouts and 63 walks in 133.2 IP.

“Jala Wright looks back to the best version of herself,” Young said. “She had a lot of ups and downs last year and was putting too much pressure on herself. She is in a really good place and ready to finish on a high note. She looks outstanding.”

Senior Lillie Walker emerged as Duke’s change-of-pace pitcher last season to help get the Blue Devils out of jams. The lefty had a career year, finishing 8-2 with a 1.20 ERA, 40 strikeouts and 19 walks in 58.1 IP

“The kid has ice in her veins,” Young said. “She is always put in the toughest situations and she finds a way to work out of it.”

Sophie Garner-MacKinnon was injured for part of last season, but has returned to full strength. The sophomore right-hander threw 44.1 innings as a rookie, going 2-1 with a 2.05 ERA, 20 strikeouts and 18 walks.

With the addition of Drogemuller as a proven starter, Duke should be even stronger in the circle in 2024.

“All of our pitchers are so different, which I love,” Young said. “When I make pitching changes, the other team will have to adjust the game plan.”


Every major offensive piece outside of designated player Deja Davis returns in the order. 

The Blue Devils have placed more emphasis on strength and conditioning to improve their power numbers. They hit 65 home runs last season with a .511 slugging percentage.                                                                  

“We really talked a lot about being able to have better at-bats with runners in scoring position. That has been our focus,” Young said. “I hope that produces more runs this year, especially with the kids coming back with more experience and understanding the game within the game more.”

Speedy sophomore outfielder D’Auna Jennings batted a team-leading .462 with 80 hits, 48 runs and 21 of 24 in stolen bases. Her batting average and hits were single-season program records and ranked sixth nationally. 

“She has a breakout year and we expect her to have another great year,” Young said. “She has speed and the power and triple threat ability.”

Ana Gold, Gisele Tapia and Aminah Vega were the top run producers for Duke last season, with all driving in at least 50 runs.  

Tapia, a graduate senior, batted .362 with 12 doubles and 50 RBIs.

“She has been our most consistent person with runners in scoring position,” Young said. “She wants to be up there and she looks better than ever. She has really developed more power this year.”

Gold, a junior, batted .313 with a team-leading 19 home runs and 56 RBIs. She had a .724 slugging percentage and team-best OPS of 1.160.

Vega, a sophomore, batted .371 with 12 home runs, 11 doubles and 50 RBIs.

Senior Claire Davidson has transitioned from pitcher to outfielder full time and can focus more on offense. She batted .325 with 15 doubles and 28 RBIs last season while leading the Blue Devils in Wins Above Replacement at 4.7, according to 6-4-3 Charts/Synergy Sports.

“She has been almost impossible to get out this fall,” Young said. 


The lineup card for the opening game could be filled out early for the Blue Devils. The only open position is right field. 

Senior Kelly Torres returns behind the plate, redshirt sophomore Jada Baker at shortstop, Vega at second, Gold at third and Tapia at first. In the outfield, Jennings returns to center and Davidson and Kelsey Zampa are options in left.

“I would say the one downside this year is we don’t have tons of depth,” Young said. “We have 19 kids on the roster and with some of those being POs (pitchers only). We need our kids to stay healthy and performing at a high level.”


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