Freshmen make their mark early

Five hundred twenty-two. In six games, only one Blue Devil has played that many minutes out of a possible 540. It's not the goalie, it's not an upperclassmen---it's freshman defender Gretchen Miller.

Miller, who has started in every game thus far, and forwards Rebecca Allen and Kendall Bradley highlight a freshman class that has not only racked up playing time but has elevated their team's level of play as well.

It would not be unreasonable to expect a new class to take some time to transition into collegiate soccer, but this batch of newcomers has hit the ground running. Duke lost nine seniors last year, so these freshmen have been given an early chance to contribute in a very big way, and they have not disappointed.

"When they come in the game, we haven't kept the level [of play] the same," head coach Robbie Church said of his freshmen. "They've actually come in the game, and they've raised the level."

Even though the Blue Devils only consistently start one freshman, Miller, many others regularly come in the game as early substitutes.

The freshman class seemed to come into its own in a 6-0 victory over Elon Sept. 13. In that contest, Allen knocked in her first collegiate goal, Bradley fed Miller for her first strike as a Blue Devil and fellow frosh Carey Goodman also tallied her first score.

Still, college soccer has presented some challenges for this talented class of recruits, both in games and in training. Bradley said that the freshmen are still adjusting to the higher level of play and commitment at the collegiate level.

"It's so much faster," she said. "Everyone's a lot bigger and a lot stronger. Every single touch you have to focus on. In high school, you can get away with some stuff-taking a few more touches. Here, you've really just got to play quickly. But your teammates are a lot better too, so it's a lot easier."

Another issue that freshmen typically face is having to deal with limited playing time or complementary roles off the bench. Yet many members of this year's new class have taken their new responsibilities in stride, even citing the advantages of watching their teammates play from the sidelines.

"I like it because I get to see the game," Bradley said. "Your goal is always to start, but when you get to the come off the bench, you get to kind of feel out the game a little bit, see where you're going to be playing, what your marks are going to be like and have a better idea for when you get in there."

For several of these new Blue Devils, the goal of starting is not that far off. After only six games, Church said he is pleased with their performances so far and expects this class to continue to excel.

"If you look at our next three or four people that come off the bench, they're all freshmen players," Church said. "They've done a really good job, and our freshmen could crack the [starting] lineup."

As the Blue Devils head into the Duke Classic this weekend and then further into the year, it remains to be seen just how much the freshmen will improve and how much playing time Church will give them. But it's fairly certain that Gretchen Miller will be on the field.


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