Blue Devils open up tough ACC schedule

For Duke, the real test is just starting.

The Blue Devils (5-1-2) open their conference schedule tonight at 7 p.m. against No. 5 Virginia at Koskinen Stadium. The game marks the end of a successful non-conference run and the beginning of the challenge that is their ACC slate.

"Our confidence is the biggest it's been all season-and I think even since last season," junior Kelly Hathorn said. "Virginia is a huge game every year, regardless of what we're ranked and what they're ranked. It's just going to be a challenge.

"Once the ACC starts, the battle begins. Every game is a battle."

Duke enters the contest on a roll, having won five of six games, including its last four. Over that four-game stretch, the Blue Devils netted 15 goals while goalie Alison Lipsher and the Duke defense conceded only two.

While potent, Duke's offensive attack has also been balanced. On the season, 10 different Blue Devils have found the back of the net.

"We have different types of players but we're finally gelling," Hathorn said of the team's recent play.

Still, Duke knows that Virginia is a formidable opponent. The Cavaliers are active on both sides of the ball, so the Blue Devils may have a harder time keeping possession, yet Hathorn said the offense thrives when Duke maintains control of play.

The Blue Devils will also be hard-pressed to score against a Virginia defense that has allowed only two goals all season. Duke posted 29 shots in two wins last weekend, and continuing to finish those chances will be crucial. Head coach Robbie Church also emphasized set pieces as a great opportunity to score on Virginia.

Defensively, Church said the Blue Devils will have to be aggressive to prevent the Cavaliers from establishing control.

"We've got to make sure we're close to our marks," Church said. "We close them down and we don't let them get into a rhythm of play. We must be good individual defenders and good team defenders at the same time."

The team also continues to focus on sustaining a high level of play for the entire game. Defender Kelly McCann noted the importance of having the mentality to play a full 90 minutes.

"They're a good team, so there will be parts of the game where they have control and parts where we have control," McCann said. "[We can] not get down if it's not going our way."

Even with such a critical game, Duke is not feeling the pressure. Although the ACC is highly competitive, the Blue Devils feel like they can compete with anyone. They said they have continued to improve throughout the season and are eager to gauge themselves against an opponent of Virginia's caliber.

"We have the momentum, we have the energy," Hathorn said. "It's going to be fun."


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