Orientation week is spent meeting new people, figuring out the campus bus routes and exploring Durham. But when you’re going to play a pair of soccer games before you ever take your first college class, you have to do all those things well before O-week kicks off.
Billed as the No. 3 recruiting class in the nation, eight new Blue Devils have been on campus since early August, giving them a chance to adjust to both their new surroundings and their new teammates.
“We have six girls on East Campus right now, and [Aug. 16] was the first day that we've seen other people in our dorm, so it was just the six of us in the whole building,” freshman defender Morgan Reid said. “We haven't really met anyone outside the soccer community because people haven't moved in yet, but we've had time to explore and get our bearings and find a lot of good restaurants that we like.”
The adjustment to college soccer and the time commitment required has also taken some time to get used to. Two-and-a-half hour training sessions—held twice a day during preseason—are followed by ice baths, film sessions, team meetings and sessions working on the mental aspect of the game. Freshmen are also responsible for the set-up and tear-down of practice, Reid said, meaning each session may consume three to four hours after bringing water, balls, pennies and cones to and from the field.
“The competitive atmosphere is like 10 times greater [in college]. You have to be your best and the most competitive person you can be to help your teammates get better and yourself get better,” freshman midfielder Imani Dorsey said. “Having the extra bit of focus to get that final touch or that perfect pass to your teammate, everything just has to be sharper.”
Reid and Dorsey were both named to the TopDrawerSoccer.com preseason Best XI Freshman team. The pair, along with Ashton Miller and Schuyler DeBree, got the starting nod in Duke’s exhibition opener, a 2-0 triumph Thursday against South Carolina. Producing immediate results, the second tally of the game came courtesy of a freshman-to-freshman connection, as Miller found Casey Martinez on a free kick that Martinez finished past South Carolina’s Sabrina D’Angelo. Duke's lone goal in its second exhibition match against UNC-Wilmington came from Dorsey less than a minute into the contest.
The anticipation of finally taking the field at Koskinen Stadium against a real opponent was a long time in the making.
“I remember just walking out onto the field for the first time for warmups was just the most amazing feeling, because I've been committed to Duke for two years now and I've watched them play on the field,” Dorsey said. “I wanted to be in the same experience, so having that chance was incredible.”
“It was kind of a crazy, surreal feeling, because I've come to Duke games since I was really little since I only live about 20 minutes away,” Reid said. “To be out there on the field and be in that intense atmosphere and to have my little siblings watching me was really cool.”
The six freshmen join a talented but very young Blue Devil roster, which lost key cogs in its offensive machine in forwards Laura Weinberg and Kim DeCesare and chinks in its defensive armor in Natasha Anasi and the versatile Mollie Pathman to graduation.
Church said he hasn’t decided how many freshmen will crack the starting lineup once the Blue Devils get back to full strength—sophomores Christina Gibbons and Rebecca Quinn have missed preseason training as they compete in the FIFA U20 World Cup for Team USA and Team Canada, respectively, and redshirt senior Gilda Doria continues to work back toward game shape after missing the entire 2013 campaign with a knee injury. Regardless of whether they start or come off the bench, Church said he was confident that his freshmen would make an impact.
“They're going to be a big part of our program this year,” Church said. “I don't want them to just sit back and say ‘Hey I'm a freshman, I'm going to give way to the sophomores, juniors and seniors.’ We have some people gone, we have some people who are hurt right now, so we can't afford to be timid.”