As if a matchup between two top-five teams was not enough, this week’s game between Duke and North Carolina pits last week’s ACC Offensive Player of the Week, Tar Heel Kara Cannizzaro, against last week’s ACC Defensive Player of the Week, Blue Devil Kelsey Duryea.
Thursday night will see the collision of two lacrosse juggernauts as No. 3 North Carolina (9-1, 2-0 in the ACC) travels to Durham to take on No. 5 Duke (9-1, 2-1) for what will likely determine who will finish second in the ACC.
After dropping their season opener to Florida, the Tarheels have won nine straight games, climbing the national rankings to the number three spot. Although they have yet to face No. 1 Maryland, North Carolina has established itself as a force to be reckoned with in the ACC. In its nine victories, North Carolina has been winning handily, with a scoring margin of five goals.
Senior midfielder and team captain Cannizzaro leads the Tarheels’ offensive charge, already notching 27 goals on the season. North Carolina’s offense averages 11.8 goals per game behind Cannizzaro, who is the main catalyst and the only player on the Tarheels’ offense to score more than 20 goals this season.
“It’s going to take a total team effort [to stop Cannizzaro],” Duke head coach Kerstin Kimel said. “She’s a great individual player. She generates a lot of offense for them [and] she’s got great speed in the midfield.”
The Blue Devils’ sole loss came at the hands of No. 1 Maryland on Feb. 24. Since then, Duke has won five games in a row, including victories against No. 8 Georgetown, No. 10 Virginia and No. 15 Dartmouth.
Offensively, senior attacker Makenzie Hommel and sophomore attacker Kerrin Maurer have anchored the offense by scoring 27 and 23 goals, respectively.
While Cannizzaro has been able to match Hommel’s goal-production, both Hommel and Maurer have been able to do so more effectively. Cannizzaro has a shooting percentage of 45.8 while Hommel and Maurer boast 60.5 and 60, respectively.
This type of efficiency allows their shots-on-goal percentage to be close to 20 percent better than Cannizzaro’s, forcing opponents to take their scoring opportunities more seriously. Duke as a team has also scored 23 more goals on the season than the Tarheels.
But it is the play of freshman goalkeeper Duryea that has kept the Blue Devils in the position to win late in the game.
“It’s huge for us to have our solid defense return from last year and then have a crucial part in the cage with [Duryea],” Maurer said.
Duryea was selected as last week’s ACC Defensive Player of the Week after notching a season-high 12 saves against Virginia. These types of performances have been crucial, as Duke has been in several tight games this season with three of its last five games decided by three goals or less.
“On attack, it gives you the confidence that if you do have a turnover, she’s going to go down there and make the big save that will give us a spark,” Maurer said.
Looking at past games between these two teams, Duryea will need to step up and have another solid performance if the Blue Devils hope to hold off the Tarheels. Last year saw a bizarre contest, with the Tarheels winning in an unusually low-scoring 4-2 game.
“Both of us have had games where we’ve scored a lot of goals, we’ve been held in check, given up double-digit goals, not given up a lot of goals,” Kimel said. “History tells you that it’s likely going to be a close game.”
If Duke can make it past North Carolina, the Blue Devils have a good chance to win out the rest of the regular season, with their only true test coming against No. 4 Northwestern. If Duke can stay perfect from Thursday night on, they will place second in the ACC and more than likely crack the top-three in the overall rankings.
The game—held at Koskinen Stadium at 7 p.m.—is the last time that the Blue Devils will see their home field until they close out their season against Ohio State.
“We always love playing on Koskinen,” Kimel said. “And the fact that it’s a night weekday game is pretty exciting for us.”