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Duke came up just short in the College Cup.

The Chronicle's top 10 sports stories of 2017: Duke women's soccer reaches College Cup in historic season

With the end of 2017 quickly approaching, The Chronicle's sports department takes a look back at the biggest sports stories of the year. Each day, The Blue Zone will review a major game, event or storyline that helped shape the course of the year in Blue Devil athletics.

Coming in at No. 5 on the list: Duke women's soccer and its run to the Final Four

With 15 returning players from its 2015 national championship runner-up squad, expectations were high for the Blue Devils—and they certainly came through. 

2017 was a historic year for Duke—it pulled off a program-record 19 straight wins and made it to the ACC championship for the first time since 2000, though the Blue Devils lost in a heartbreaker to North Carolina. From there, they went on an epic tear, winning their first four NCAA tournament games by a combined 15-0 margin, and never gave up a goal in regulation. 

But once they reached the College Cup, the train stopped in Orlando. With the game against second-seeded UCLA scoreless after two overtimes, it went to penalty kicks—where Duke fell 4-3. Junior Kat McDonald missed the Blue Devils' final penalty kick, opening the door for the Bruins to nail the game-winning shot, placed in the upper right corner of the goal by Marley Canales.  

“This has been the best year I’ve ever had as a coach, and I’ve been coaching for 36 years,” head coach Robbie Church said. “You just keep knocking on that door, and one day that door is going to open.”

The entire game before penalty kicks was up and down for the Blue Devils, exchanging opportunities with UCLA, but with neither team getting open looks. Neither team was able to take control of the game. 

The best chance Duke had was in the 18th minute when Ella Stevens laced a ball through to All-American senior Imani Dorsey right as she entered the box. The shot was placed just to the right of the post as a Bruin defender closed in quickly on Dorsey. 

The same duo had another opportunity in the second half off a Stevens’ free kick. Dorsey launched forward for the header and the finish but was unable to connect before UCLA goalkeeper Teagan Micah punched the ball away. 

Church approached the penalty kicks differently than he had in previous matchups. Junior Chelsea Burns had taken all but one of the team’s penalty kicks on the season, going 4-of-6 on the year, but was not called forward. 

Dorsey and Kayla McCoy, who each scored 14 goals this season, were not called upon. Rebecca Quinn, whom Church referred to as the greatest player he has ever coached, was not called forward. 

“We’ve been taking penalty kicks for five or six weeks. Chelsea played 110 minutes, and she was pretty beat,” Church said. “We had a combination of people that did play and people didn’t play as much, but over the course of charting penalty kicks and taking repetitions of penalty kicks, we were very comfortable with the kickers that we put up there.”

Only one Blue Devil starter got a crack in the shootout—senior Ashton Miller, who converted. Two Bruin starters took penalty kicks, one of which was saved by EJ Proctor. UCLA also had two players come off the bench who had not played the entire game, including Canales, who sealed the game for the Bruins. 

Ending a storied season by only one penalty kick was not the happy ending the Blue Devils had hoped for, especially on a team that will lose six seniors from perhaps the most talented class in program history. 

“I know that we literally put everything we had on the field today. We gave it everything we possibly could,” Dorsey said after the loss. “So when that happens and we don’t get the result we want, you kind of sit there and you’re like, ‘Where do you go from here? What does it all mean? Why?’”

Goalkeeper EJ Proctor shattered Duke goalkeeping records, owning the second- and third-best single-season goals-against averages in school history. All-Americans Dorsey, Quinn and Schuyler DeBree finished out their careers leading the Blue Devils to the most All-American selections in a single-season in school history. 

Dorsey was also tagged USC National Scholar-Athlete of the year and the Duke coaching staff was tabbed Coaching Staff of the Year. 

After a historic season, the Blue Devils still return significant talent to their roster and should benefit from the gut-wrenching experience in the College Cup. 

Check in tomorrow to see what story comes in at No. 4 on our list. 

READ MORE about Duke's historic season:  

Duke women's soccer's season ends abruptly with loss in College Cup shootout

Duke women's soccer to meet UCLA in semifinals for toughest test yet in tournament

FOUR-LANDO BOUND: Duke women's soccer clinches program's fourth College Cup appearance

Achilles' Heels: North Carolina beats Duke women's soccer 1-0 in ACC championship

Olympian Rebecca Quinn entering final weekend of best Duke women's soccer career ever?

A look at the rest of our top 10 countdown to date:

No. 10: Men's soccer makes first NCAA tournament appearance since 2011

No. 9: Duke softball play its first-ever game

No. 8: Both men's and women’s golf take ACC titles

No. 7: Duke football goes bowling for the fifth time in six years

No. 6: Duke rallies to win the PK80 Motion Bracket title

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