Duke has been led by the strong play of its freshman and a stable defense through its first two exhibition victories.
Duke has been led by the strong play of its freshman and a stable defense through its first two exhibition victories.

With the regular season opener just around the corner, the Blue Devils got their season started on the right foot.

No. 18 Duke notched a pair of shutouts in its two exhibition matches, blanking No. 14 South Carolina 2-0 in its exhibition opener Thursday at Koskinen Stadium before hanging on for a 1-0 victory at UNC-Wilmington Saturday.

“I was very happy with the overall performance,” Duke head coach Robbie Church said after the South Carolina game. “I saw some areas where we can continue to build on, especially on the offensive side because we've really done much more work on the defensive side up to this point.”

The Duke offense managed just three shots on the evening, but it was enough to send the Blue Devils past the Gamecocks. The first goal came on an own goal in the 18th minute, and the teams played a scoreless second period before freshman Casey Martinez put the game away with a strike in the 84th minute. Against UNC-Wilmington, Duke wasted no time getting on the board, as Imani Dorsey scored less than a minute into the match to give the Blue Devils all the offense they would need.

Playing shorthanded due to injuries and a pair of players participating in the U20 World Cup, the Blue Devils were able to hold both of their opponents scoreless in each of the three 30-minute periods. Defense has been the focus of Duke’s preseason training, making the shutouts an encouraging sign.

“I was really proud of our team's effort and I think the coaching staff was as well,” freshman Imani Dorsey said. “We expected to get a win out of it and we did—that's our goal, to keep moving forward and connecting. We've been focus on defensive presence, so having a shutout was really important as well.”

The short turnaround between exhibition games was no accident. The Blue Devils play games Friday and Sunday for the first four weekends of the regular season, and Church wanted to get his team prepared for the physical toll required to play two games within 48 hours.

“The first four weekends of the regular season are Friday-Sunday, so when we decided to play two preseason games we planned it out to where we could get practice playing two games within 48 hours,” Church said. “It's hard to play two college soccer games so close together, especially with the young team that we have.”

Goalkeeper continues to be a fierce position battle as the regular season opener nears. Last season, senior Ali Kershner and redshirt junior Meghan Thomas split time throughout the year, with Kershner making a number of consecutive starts while Thomas worked her way back from a leg injury. Heading into the 2014 season, freshman E.J. Proctor has been added to the mix as well. Each goalkeeper played a 30-minute period against the Gamecocks, but none of them were severely tested, as South Carolina mustered six shots all night, none of which required saves.

Church said the situation remains fluid, with a decision on Friday’s opening day starter in net against Ohio State at the Carolina Classic likely to come after training sessions Monday and Tuesday. He added that he feels comfortable with any of the three between the pipes.

“We're very fortunate to have three very good goalkeepers,” Church said. “They're all different, they all have their own strengths and they all have their own weaknesses. Goalkeeper is a really important position for us, and I think they've all done a really good job to this point. It's pretty even right now. We're going to have to make a decision next week, and it's not going to be an easy decision.”