Hamm's Return Boosts Duke in Big Way
by Justin Feil | LaxMagazine.com
Emma Hamm has yet to shed the brace on her left knee, but it has not slowed her. After missing all of 2010 with a torn ACL, she has come back as one of the most complete players in the country, ranking second on Duke in scoring and caused turnovers and first in ground balls and draw controls.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com
Emma Hamm was a help on the sidelines last year, but she's a far bigger asset to the Duke women's lacrosse team on the field this season.
The junior redshirted last year after a knee injury cost her the entire season, but has returned with a career year in the midfield and attack.
"Emma, when she started playing with us in the fall, we realized we missed her so much," said Duke head coach Kerstin Kimel. "She's a playmaker."
One of the most complete players in the country, Hamm has proven her versatility by filling the stat sheets. She is second on the Blue Devils in goals (27), assists (16), points (43), caused turnovers (16), and first among field players in ground balls (20) and draw controls (41).
"I feel like I have a better, more calm and patient outlook after having watched us play," Hamm said. "I have a better head on my shoulders. I feel good about how I'm playing."
Hamm's return has helped No. 3 Duke go 9-1, in large part thanks to boosting one of the most productive offenses in the country, something it will need when it visits No. 2 Northwestern on Saturday.
"We knew it would be good," Hamm said of the Blue Devils' sixth-ranked scoring offense. "I was excited to get in the mix. Even though I had played with a lot of them, it's important to learn about each other's tendencies and get to play together."
At 15.60 goals per game, the Blue Devils are on pace to break their single-season record for scoring average. They actually had an off game in an 11-8 win over No. 8 Virginia last Saturday, but nobody has held them to single digits yet. They are scoring more than two goals per game above last year after returning so much experience and getting Hamm back. Four Duke players already have more than 20 points. Seven have scored double-digit goals.
"We actually believe and feel everyone over the restraining line is a threat," Hamm said. "There's a factor of trust and confidence that everyone has for each other. It allows us to take risks.
"And we're the ones that call the plays this year. It's never been like that."
The new responsibility is a show of how much Duke's coaching staff believes in its attack. Kimel, though, cautions that we won't know how good this offense really until season's end.
"A lot of people are able to score, and we're able to score in a lot of different ways," she said. "We want a real versatile and dynamic offense. I think we're on our way to that right now."
Hamm gets a chunk of the credit. Saturday's win over Virginia was the first game in which Hamm had not scored a goal. She has had at least five points in all but two games this season. Focusing on just her offensive impact would be missing the big picture, however.
"She makes things happen," Kimel said. "She doesn't just work for herself. She works to set her teammates up as well. She gives us the offense. She is big in our transition. She is great in getting us draws for possession. She creates turnovers in our ride. Emma has 16 caused turnovers, and she's not a defender. That's just hustle and grit.
"When you look at Emma, and look at what she's done for us, she makes plays all over the field," Kimel added. "She's a great 50-50 player. She doesn't give up. It's very contagious. She's very scrappy. Kat Thomas is a lot like her, and Emma's made her a better player. In that way, I think Emma has had a major impact with her return."
Injury-prone Duke has managed a 9-1 record despite being without the services of All-American Sarah Bullard, who has missed the last six games. The third-ranked Blue Devils play at second-ranked Northwestern on Saturday.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com
Hamm missed all of last season after tearing her ACL in the preseason. She was cutting to goal and went down as she was trying to avoid the crease. Her season was over.
"Honestly, it was the best timing possible," Hamm said. "I was able to get mentally prepared to sit out the season and find a new role that would still be beneficial to the team."
Said Kimel: "We jokingly called her Coach Hamm. We used her as a coach. She ran substitutions and kept track of the draw."
"Now I have a resume," Hamm said.
Rehabilitation took a long time. Hamm wasn't cleared until the final tournament of this preseason, then she strained her hamstring five minutes into her first action. Her physical therapist still hasn't cleared her from the brace she wears to protect her knee, but it hasn't slowed her. She came back in storybook fashion by scoring the first goal of Duke's season.
"First of all, I learned how much I love to play the game," Hamm said. "It made me all the more hungry to get back out there.
"To watch my teammates play helped me. I was able to learn things that I didn't even know."
Hamm is trying to do what would seem to be impossible – give Duke more than she ever has. She was an All-American as a freshman, after all. Always a good feeder and cutter, she's become more aggressive with the ball in her stick.
"The more versatile you are, the more difficult you are to defend," Hamm said. "When I dodge more, it opens up even more. I'm still working on that. It's improving though.
"I feel like from watching last year, there weren't enough times when we felt good enough to take risks. Sometimes I go and take risks. The way that I take risks, I think it helps other people feel they can do that. That's something I pride myself on."
The Duke attack is shaping up, and if the Blue Devils can get enough draw controls or turnovers to create possessions, they are highly efficient on offense. When Virginia held the ball for five minutes to start the game last Saturday, Kimel saw a new maturity with her team.
"After that, an offense will go down and be antsy, but we weren't," Kimel said. "I felt our kids were really confident and calm. They
handled it well. When we had the ball, we played at our tempo."
At the other end, the Blue Devils have gained confidence as their young defense has gained experience. Goalie Mollie Mackler only played seven games last year before she was lost to an ACL tear as well. Miller Hughes is the lone senior until Caroline Spearman returns from an injury that has kept her out all season, but Hughes had not seen significant time until this year. Bridget Nolan will be likely unavailable for Saturday's game against Northwestern after breaking her wrist in the win over UVA.
Duke has been relying on sophomores and freshmen, but they are learning quickly. In their last four games, they have allowed just 7.0 goals per game, and their development has helped the team get tougher and helped the Duke offense improve.
"Our defense," Kimel said, "because it's growing, has ability to give us different looks so we can handle different defenses better."
The Blue Devils figure to get even better if they can ever get fully healthy. Duke hasn't had All-American midfielder Sarah Bullard for the last six games, but losing big-name players is nothing new to the Blue Devils.
They lost the national preseason player of the year, Caroline Cryer, to an injured foot in 2008. In 2009, preseason All-American and Tewaaraton Trophy finalist Carolyn Davis was lost after the first round of the NCAA tournament. She was also hurt in the 2007 NCAAs. In 2010, it was Hamm and Mackler who were the biggest losses.
"We've had a couple of strange, weird injuries," Kimel said. "One of our big things is to be able to overcome."
With Emma Hamm back on the field, the Duke women's lacrosse team certainly has a better chance to do so this year as they look to build on their promising start.