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Duke faces Tourney Demons

In each of the last two seasons, the Blue Devils have found themselves on the brink of capturing the first National Championship in program history. Both times, however, Duke's title dreams have come up short, as the team lost in the finals to their nemesis, Wake Forest.

The third-seeded Blue Devils (17-4) hope that the third time is the charm against the three-time defending national champion Demon Deacons (21-1). This time, however, Duke and Wake Forest will square off in the national semifinals tonight at 7:30 p.m. in Louisville, Ky.

After losing to Wake Forest 3-1 in the championship game in 2003, Duke believed they would exact revenge when the two teams met in the finals again last season. Instead, the Blue Devils were shut out, 3-0, by a Demon Deacon squad that featured All-Americans Kelly Dostal and Claire Laubach.

This time, however, head coach Beth Bozman said she thinks her veteran squad will use its past Final Four experience to give it an edge over its rival.

"I think we're more experienced," Bozman said. "We certainly know each other really well, and I think we're just a little more battle-toughened. I think we're going to bring a game to the field this time."

Though Dostal, the nation's leading scorer a year ago, graduated last spring, Wake Forest has had little trouble replacing her offensive output or continuing its winning ways. Freshman Christine Suggs, a Durham native, has turned heads with a team-high 16 goals. Suggs is also a dangerous passer; she is tied with Lauren Crandall for first on the team with 13 assists.

On defense, the Demon Deacons return goalie Kristina Gagliardi, the only player to shut out the Blue Devils last season. This year, the junior has allowed just 19 goals in more than 1500 minutes of play, giving her a goals against average of 0.87.

Bozman said Duke is prepared to play a very close match and expects the team that makes the smallest number of errors to win the game.

"When you look at the top four teams, you're going to see one goal differences in the games," Bozman said. "They're all so comparable and are great teams. I think it's really a matter of going out hard and having the fewest mistakes."

In their double-overtime wins over Princeton and Connecticut in the opening rounds of this year's tournament, the Blue Devils took a combined 50 shots but were only able to muster five goals. While Duke's offense was hampered at times by defensive schemes that packed 11 opposing players inside the Blue Devils' offensive circle, team scoring leader Katie Grant said Duke cannot waste its chances.

"I think the difference in these kinds of games is capitalizing on your opportunities," Grant said. "You don't know how many chances you're going to have to score, so you have to make the most out of what you do get."

After the team found itself tied 1-1 in double overtime against Princeton Nov. 12, Bozman said it dawned on her players that unless they picked up their pace their season could be over at any minute. Duke's renewed sense of passion led it to wins over the Tigers and Huskies, and the team hopes it will catapult them back to the finals.

"With UConn, it was definitely that motivation to get to the next round," Grant said. "We still have that now, to get to the national championship game-that's really going to help, especially in the second half to make sure we're pushing to win and giving everything we've got."

First-seeded Maryland will take on fourth-seeded Old Dominion at 5:30 p.m. in today's other semifinal matchup. The winners of the two contests will square off at 12:30 p.m. Sunday to decide the national championship.

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