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Freshmen star in crucial win over Spartans

Freshman defender Andrew Wenger kept UNC-Greensboro off the board and scored a goal of his own in a 3-0 win over the Spartans Tuesday.
Freshman defender Andrew Wenger kept UNC-Greensboro off the board and scored a goal of his own in a 3-0 win over the Spartans Tuesday.

After losing two straight games for the first time this season, the Blue Devils knew that they had to come out of Tuesday night’s game against UNC-Greensboro with a decisive win. No. 21 Duke (8-4) rose to the occasion with a 3-0 blowout of the Spartans (3-7-3), the team that eliminated the Blue Devils from the NCAA tournament last season.

The match was hardly a competition, as Duke outshot UNC-Greensboro 26-9 and had nine corner kicks compared to the Spartans’ four. Clearly shown by this shutout, the 2009 Blue Devil team is at a different level than last year’s squad.

“We were well aware of what Greensboro did to us last year and there was extra incentive to make sure it didn’t happen again,” head coach John Kerr said. “We didn’t convert some of our opportunities, but we kept on them and kept moving the ball. We made their life difficult tonight.”

Ironically enough, the only players who scored in the match didn’t even play in the tournament game last year. Freshman defender Andrew Wenger opened the floodgates, and fellow freshman Ryan Finley tallied the final two scores. Goalkeeper James Belshaw, also a freshman, put up a three-save shutout to match his classmates’ showings in a night filled with outstanding first-year performances, .

The first score of the game didn’t come until the 27th minute, when Wenger’s diving header found the back of the net off a corner by junior forward Cole Grossman. It was his first goal of the season and of his college career.

“It’s been a long time coming—I wish it would have come earlier,” Wenger said. “But it’s nice to finally get it.”

In addition to his goal, Wenger anchored down the defense throughout the game with key clearances to stop the few Spartan counterattacks. Luckily the defense did not have much pressure to deal with since the Duke midfield completely controlled play.

Senior Ryan McDaniel was key to the midfield’s effort, winning 50-50 balls and distributing to his wingers. On the outside, sophomore Christopher Tweed-Kent routinely brought the ball up the field to the forward duo of Finley and Grossman. On Duke’s final goal, Tweed-Kent slotted a pass back to the penalty stripe where Finley had a one-time strike to beat the keeper.

“We came out with the right energy and the right approach,” McDaniel said. “Our goal is to always come out with the fire and tenacity, especially in the middle of the field.”

The Blue Devils have the ability to be a top team, but they need to be consistent in their efforts. They need to bring the resolve that McDaniel speaks of to every game, no matter who the opponent is. With this timely win over UNC-Greensboro, Duke is on pace to finish off the season strong.

“It’s huge getting back on the right track and getting our confindence going again,” Kerr said.

Following this victory, the Blue Devils head into a four-game homestand, two of which come against ACC teams. Even with their brief top-10 stint, the Blue Devils aren’t overconfident, and treat each game as a must-win.

“The win over UNC-Greensboro was good, but we have to build on it,” Wenger said. “But if we lose next week, we’re right back to where we started.”

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