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Duke guns for first ACC championship

When the sixth-ranked Duke women's lacrosse team faces No. 5 Virginia Saturday, it hopes to repeat regular season history against the Cavaliers and make ACC history of its own.


      With both teams 2-0 in the ACC, Saturday's home game is the deciding match for the league's regular season championship and the all-important No. 1 seed in the late April ACC Tournament. In its eight-year history, Duke (6-3, 2-0) has never gone undefeated in the ACC or won an ACC Championship.


      "We have never been in this position before, so we are looking at this as a motivational factor," head coach Kerstin Kimel said.


      If the Blue Devils hope to defeat the Cavaliers, they will have to contain Amy Appelt, the ACC's most prolific offensive threat. Limiting Appelt's offensive potency is the key to Kimel's gameplan.


      "We hope to limit her," Kimel said. "We know what she is going to do, so we know what to look for."


      While Virginia (9-2, 2-0) leads the all-time series 10-2, the two teams have split the last four contests. In 2003 the ACC teams met twice, with Duke winning 12-7 in the regular season and the Cavaliers taking a 12-9 victory during the ACC Tournament.


      In last year's regular season game, Duke was led by senior All-American Lauren Gallagher's five goals. Without Gallagher's offensive spark, the Blue Devils will look to their younger talent to lead the team offensively.


      Youth has been the key to Duke's offense the entire season as the team has been coping with a number of injuries, especially in the midfield. Sophomore Katie Chrest leads this year's squad with 21 goals and 24 points. She scored three goals in the team's March 28 victory over No. 9 Vanderbilt. Freshmen Leigh Jester, who also had a hat trick against Vanderbilt, and Kristen Waagbo, who leads the team with 11 assists and is second with 12 goals, have contributed greatly to the team's offensive output this season.


      In last year's win over Virginia, the defense came up big, as goalkeeper Megan Huether recorded a career-high 15 saves. Huether's strength has been playing in big-game situations, as she tied this career-high in the team's February 29 victory over then-No. 2 Maryland.


      Defense will be key again this year facing the Cavaliers and their two junior All-Americans: Appelt and Cary Chasney. During Virginia's March 31 victory over James Madison, Appelt scored seven goals to lead the team. In last year's Cavalier victory over the Blue Devils, Appelt had four goals.


      In Duke's six games with top-20 competition this season, the team has a .500 record, with all three of its losses coming against top-five teams. However, the team did earn a pivotal wins over ACC-rivals Maryland and North Carolina to put itself in the position to clinch the title Saturday.


      Still, despite the major milestone that can be reached, Kimel is trying to make the contest seem like just another game.


      "Talking about the opportunity to win the ACC outright is exciting, but it is in no way the focus," Kimel said.


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