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Duke made the NCAA tourmanet for the first time since 2011 but fell to Fordham in the round of 16 on ...

The Chronicle's top 10 sports stories of 2017: Men's soccer makes first NCAA tournament appearance since 2011

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. 10 on our list:  Men’s soccer returns to the NCAA Tournament

A season finishing under .500 for the first time since 2003, mediocrity, not the postseason, seemed in the cards for Duke men's soccer. 

But the Blue Devils tightened up their defense en route to their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2011, finishing 12-3-2 and earning the No. 6 overall seed before falling in the Round of 16. 

“The players have made huge sacrifices, particularly last spring and into this fall,” head coach John Kerr said before the NCAA tournament. “They made it their job to get back to this place where they want to be in the postseason. They deserve and earned every minute of where we are. It’s now a good opportunity for us to take advantage of what we’ve done in the past but also to move on and be in the present.”

A year after allowing 1.47 goals per game, Duke shaved nearly a half a goal off that average, helping it pick up four top-13 wins. One of those was against then-No. 13 Florida International in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The Blue Devils roared out to a 2-0 lead late in the second half, but things got tight—and chippy—late. In a game in which 34 fouls were called, the Panthers narrowed the lead to 2-1, but lost defender Marvin Hezel to a red card and Duke held on to win and advance

But the Blue Devils couldn't sustain the momentum in the next round, falling in a heartbreaker to Fordham. After again taking an early 2-0 lead, Duke let the Rams tie the game up at two apiece late. After a scoreless overtime period, the two teams remained tied heading into the 10th round of the shootout. The Rams shuffled in their backup goalie, Jordan Black, who had never taken a penalty kick and hadn't played a minute the entire year, who pushed one past goalkeeper Will Pulisic. Sophomore forward Max Moser couldn't convert, and Fordham moved on. 

“It hurts. Penalties is just a sour way to end a game,” Kerr said. "It’s difficult to take. We had the game in control for 90 minutes and in overtime, but they hung around and they fought.”

The Blue Devils had beaten Fordham 3-0 in late August. But the season was filled with highlights—Duke toppled then-No. 10 Georgetown on the road 2-1 Oct. 9 and took down No. 13 Virginia Oct. 27 at home, with the help of the "Ultras." 

The pack of 50-100 students crammed into Koskinen Stadium like nothing Kerr, John Koskinen, or Herb Neubauer—better known as Crazy Towel Guy—had ever seen at Duke. They chanted, heckled and cheered like the Cameron Crazies. 

“I’m terrible at soccer,” one Ultra said. “I like just coming out and cheering.”

On the field, the team was led on offense by Brian White, who racked up 23 points on 10 goals and three assists. Pulisic led the way in net, staying as the starting goalkeeper for every minute of play for the Blue Devils with a 1.01 goals against average, saving 76.1 percent of the shots he faced and totaling seven shutouts.

Looking forward, the Blue Devils will lose White and star defender Markus Fjørtoft, but a young team appears poised for success going forward. Carter Manley, White and Fjørtoft were all invited to the Major League Soccer Player Combine this January in Orlando and Pulisic was named to the Top Drawer Soccer Freshman Best XI. Although the season ended poorly, the Ultras will have plenty to be excited about going forward. 

READ MORE on the team's run to the NCAA tournament: 

They call themselves Ultras, look like Crazies

No. 6 seed Duke men's soccer set for first NCAA tournament match since 2011

Duke men's soccer wins first NCAA tournament match since 2011

Duke men's soccer's season ends in Sweet 16 penalty shootout vs. Fordham

Check in Saturday for No. 9 on the Blue Zone's top 10. 

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