There is no disputing that Virginia Tech is the worst team in the ACC. Winless in conference play, the Hokies have been shut out by four out of the six ACC foes they have faced.
Saturday evening in Blacksburg, Va., the Blue Devils have the opportunity to scoop up a critical victory against a team with serious weaknesses on both ends of the field. On the bubble of inclusion to the NCAA tournament, Duke must win the remainder of its games to keep its postseason hopes alive.
“We put ourselves in a little bit of a hole,” Blue Devil junior Will Donovan said. “It seems to be a habit the past few years, but we’ve been doing really well in practice so I think we’ll be alright.”
Virginia Tech’s ability to pull off the upset against Duke will most likely depend on the play of junior David Clemens. The forward, who has tallied seven goals this season, ranks sixth in the conference in scoring. He is the only player on the struggling Hokie squad who has registered more than two goals this season. As the sole player on the team who possesses a knack for finding the back of the net, Clemens’ sharpness at the striker position will be the key to lifting a team that sits near the bottom of the conference in goals per game.
“He’s done a good job and is meeting the expectations that we have for him,” Virginia Tech head coach Michael Brizendine said. “Other guys that we’ve relied on have injuries and are out for the season. Within our conference it’s hard to score goals when you have a number of freshmen out there.”
A bright spot for Virginia Tech has been the play of junior goaltender Kyle Renfro. He leads the ACC in average saves per game with 4.56 and ranks third in the conference in save percentage, stopping 76.8 percent of shots on goal. Despite Renfro’s strong showings in net, the Hokies are the weakest defensive team in the ACC, averaging the highest goals allowed per game and conceding 13 goals this season to conference opponents, compared to Duke’s six.
In its most impressive ACC game this season—a 3-2 overtime thriller against Virginia—Virginia Tech’s defensive unit demonstrated solidarity in the first half, holding the Cavaliers scoreless. The close contest between the intrastate rivals coupled with the Hokies’ win against Radford Tuesday night generated momentum for the Virginia Tech squad, which will also be eligible for an NCAA tournament bid if it closes out its schedule with wins.
“Our biggest focus is on getting the win,” Clemens said. “We’re coming off a big win against Radford and want to take care of business in the next few games and prove that we are a good team.”
Equally focused on getting the victory, the Blue Devils have turned their attention in practice to converting on their opportunities.
“We get to that final third and then don’t finish off plays,” Duke head coach John Kerr said. “We’re working on making sure that once we get into those zones that we finish off plays.”
Anchored by senior goalkeeper James Belshaw, Duke’s sturdy defensive unit averages less than one goal allowed per game. The Hokies were shut out by No. 2 North Carolina, the lone team on Virginia Tech’s schedule with a higher save percentage than Belshaw. In spite of the Hokies’ scoreless game against the Tar Heels and their inability to string together goals against teams that are weaker than both Duke and North Carolina on the defensive end, Kerr is not discounting the possibility that Virginia Tech could pull off the upset.
“Anything can happen in the ACC,” Kerr said. “In fact, [the Hokies] were the only team to beat UNC last year when UNC won everything, so we’re not taking anything for granted and are going to make sure that we’re on our toes and ready to rock and roll on Saturday night.”