With less than 30 minutes to play in what would become the Blue Devils' biggest win so far this season, defender Carolyn Ford slidetackled the ball away from a North Carolina forward inside the 18-yard box, saving a breakaway opportunity that could have put the Tar Heels ahead 2-1.
Instead, Duke cleared the ensuing corner and went on to beat North Carolina for only the second time in the history of the rivalry.
Over the course of the last two seasons, Ford has emerged as the leader of a stout Blue Devil defense that has only allowed five goals in 14 games this year. In those games-four of which were against ranked opponents-no team managed to score more than once.
"It's amazing," head coach Robbie Church said. "I look at that stat every week, and I can't believe that it's like that."
At 5-foot-8, Ford, a middle defender, does not have a significant size advantage over attacking forwards, but her superior ball control enables her to keep the ball away from would-be goal scorers. That ability, in addition to improved play in the air and better communication, has made her the centerpiece of the Duke defense, Church said.
The one area of the game that Ford struggles with is speed, said Church. As a result, teams try to play balls over the top of the defense in hopes that their forwards can beat Ford down the field in a foot race.
To combat their opponents' long-ball strategy, the Blue Devils placed Rachel-Rose Cohen on the outside of the defensive line. The quick-footed junior covers for Ford, clearing any passes that manage to make it through the defensive unit.
Senior Heidi Hollenbeck complements Ford's tendency to push forward with her intensity on defense. At practice Tuesday, Hollenbeck still had the remnants of the words "pride in zeros" scribbled on her left arm from a win over Maryland Sunday. In that 1-0 victory, which was Duke's second consecutive shutout, the Blue Devils held Maryland to only one shot.
The tradition of inscribing "pride in zeros" on their arms started two years ago and connects the defense in its pursuit of shutouts. Hollenbeck said the tone for each of Duke's nine shutouts starts in the opening minutes.
"For us to come out on the field in the first five or 10 minutes and just lay ourselves out there and go into every tackle harder than the other team and present a fight, that's what puts the other team back on their heels and allows us to go at them and destroy their hopes of winning," Hollenbeck said.
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