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Relaxed Duke returns home for adidas Classic

Twenty minutes remain in Thursday's practice, and a ball comes flying at a Duke midfielder standing at the edge of the attacking third of the field. She casually brings the ball to the ground and passes to a forward five yards ahead. The forward immediately plays the ball back to the midfielder then returns to her attacking position.

In turn, the midfielder kicks the ball, bending it between two imaginary defenders toward a waiting player on the wing. The left forward controls the ball, takes a few dribbles down the sideline, then crosses to three waiting players in the box. The middle player steps up and blasts the ball over the net with her right foot.

The girls try the drill again. This time the player on the left pushes a shot just wide of an open net.

For a team worried about its ability to finish, the No. 7 Blue Devils do not seem concerned about the missed shots. Instead, the girls laugh after the two balls slam into the black fence behind the goal.

When a shot finally finds its way into the net, the team cheers and slaps hands.

Even head coach Robbie Church seems relaxed as his team heads into the Duke/adidas Classic this weekend at Koskinen Stadium. The Blue Devils will play host to the University of Alabama at Birmingham (3-3) tonight at 7:30 p.m. and San Diego (2-3) Sunday at noon. Both opponents qualified for last year's NCAA Tournament.

"We trained hard on Tuesday and Wednesday," Church said. "We really went at each other. They were really competitive practices. Sometimes you have to step off the throttle a bit the day before."

The only worry on Church's mind this weekend? A possible let down after returning from a four-game road trip during which Duke went 3-0-1, giving the team a 4-0-1 record on the season.

"Sometimes when you're on the road and you're successful on the road, you think, 'Well I'm going home, and that's enough to win,'" Church said. "That's not enough to win."

Church said that the greatest challenge Duke will face is the UAB man-marking scheme which differs from the zone defense that most colleges use. The return of senior attacking defender Kate Seibert, however, should help the Blue Devils find holes in opposing defenses.

Duke will be raising money for the Hurricane Katrina relief effort at all the games. The first 200 fans to donate $10.00 or more will receive a Duke/adidas Classic t-shirt.

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