Time for the Blue Devils to buckle up for the stretch run if they want to keep their postseason hopes alive.
Looking to snap a six-match winless streak and in danger of not qualifying for postseason play, Duke (4-6-3, 1-4-2 in the ACC) will travel to College Park, Md. to take on Maryland Sunday at 2 p.m.
The Blue Devils will face a significant challenge on the road, as the Terrapins (7-6-0, 3-4-0) have lost only one home game this year. College Park is widely regarded as one of the most exciting places to play in the country, with a rowdy base of supporters that makes life tough for opponents.
“We love going to Maryland, and we usually play very well there,” Duke head coach Robbie Church said. “This is our last trip up there, with Maryland moving to the Big Ten, so in a sense this game is our swan song. The fans there are great—they’re very hilarious and very creative so it’s always fun to go play there.”
However, this game will function as much more than the culmination of a storied ACC rivalry. Duke needs to earn three points with a victory, or else they will start to see their playoff hopes slip away.
“We just have to concentrate on the fact that we really need these wins coming up here in the next few weeks to be able to make it to postseason play,” freshman defender Christina Gibbons said.
In order to qualify for the ACC tournament, teams must finish in the top eight in league play. Duke currently sits in 11th place, with five points separating them and eighth-place Clemson. Maryland is on the cusp of the final postseason spot, trailing the Tigers by just one point.
In order to defeat the Terrapins, Duke will certainly have to contain Maryland’s top scoring threat, senior forward Hayley Brock. Brock has notched 22 points this season and is tied for third in the ACC with nine goals scored.
“[Brock] is very, very athletic and she’s a great finisher when she gets in behind you,” Church said. “We have to know where she is at all times and make sure that we keep her in front of us.”
This responsibility will fall largely on the shoulders of Gibbons, Lizzy Raben, and Malinda Allen. The three freshman defenders have combined to start all but four games for the Blue Devils.
“Overall, its crazy to have three freshman starting in the back line, but we do, and they’ve really done well,” Church said.
Coming off of a 4-1 loss last Sunday against Boston College, Church decided to give the team its first two off days of the season on Monday and Tuesday so that the players could recharge their batteries and prepare for the important games ahead.
“We’ve had a couple days off here, so I think [the coaching staff] are just trying to let us get away and refocus,” Gibbons said.
Although mid-season fatigue is certainly a concern, Gibbons, who has logged the most minutes of anyone on the team, feels as if the off days have allowed the Blue Devils to refuel. Now they’re ready to go.
“We have this phrase called ‘blue collar’, which is basically that if you work hard, good things will come,” Gibbons said. “I think the upperclassmen have really tried to instill that in us, not just the freshman, but as an entire team mentality.”