by Tim Visutipol
KENNESAW, Ga. – Ninety minutes and an undefeated opponent are all that separate Duke from its first national title.
Duke will face Stanford Sunday at 1 p.m. at the KSU Soccer Stadium in Kennesaw, Ga., and the winner will be crowned College Cup champions. For either the Blue Devils or the Cardinal, the national title will be the first in program history.
Duke (22-3-1), fittingly, will face its most difficult matchup in the season in an undefeated and overall top-seed Stanford (24-0-1). The Cardinal eased past Florida State 3-0 in the first semifinal Friday.
“It’s going to be a tough task, no question about it,” Church said. “But when you play in the national championship game it’s always going to be a challenge.”
The Cardinal has finished runner-up in this tournament in the past two editions. In the two previous seasons Stanford have done exactly what they have this year - got to the final undefeated before falling short 1-0.
“We’re fortunate to get a second chance,” Cardinal head coach Paul Ratcliffe said. “Usually you don’t get second chances in life…. We have to learn from our past experiences. It’s got to be good motivation the feelings that we’ve had not winning the final game.”
The Blue Devils played Stanford last year, a game which the Cardinal came back to win 2-1. In that game Duke took the lead through Laura Weinberg, before Stanford came back to win.
On this occasion, however, the stage will be much larger and the stakes much higher.
“We do have a lot of the same players, but I don’t think we’re the same team,” midfielder Nicole Lipp said. “Throughout the season we’ve really grown…. We know that we can get after them and that we can get it done.”
The Cardinals are led by senior forward Lindsay Taylor—who has 20 goals for the season. Fellow senior Teresa Noyola has added eight goals and 15 assists, and Chioma Ubogagu has had a stellar rookie season with 10 goals and 10 assists for the season, including one each in the team’s win over the Seminoles Friday.
“The thing that makes them so great, is that there isn’t one player,” Church said. “There’s all of them.”
Both teams generally set up in a 4-3-3 formation with three forwards. As a result a very open and exciting game of soccer can be expected. Church predicts a very even match-up with both teams playing possession-oriented soccer. For the Blue Devils to succeed, they must be the team with the ball.
“We’ve got to keep the ball,” Church said. “We can’t go chasing them for 90 minutes. When we get it, we’ve got to keep it.”
Beating the Stanford defense will also be a difficult task. The Cardinal has also been extremely strong defensive team all season, conceding only nine goals through 25 games.
Stanford’s back line features perhaps the best left back in the nation in junior Rachel Quon—a personal friend and former teammate of Duke midfielder Nicole Lipp. Quon and Lipp grew up together and have played on the same team throughout high school and on a club team. Tomorrow, they will be lining up against each other for the biggest prize in college soccer.
“Rachel and I go way back,” Lipp said. “We’re really close friends off the field, and training on the field we push each other and make each other better. She’s just an overall great person.… It’s awesome to be playing each other in the final and it shows we’ve come a long way.”
Duke has a strong and balanced offense of its own. Kelly Cobb and Kaitlyn Kerr both have 11 goals for the season. Five of Kerr’s goals have come in this year’s run to the final. The Blue Devils have scored multiple goals in every game of this tournament.
The Duke defense has also been very stingy, giving little away all year and carrying the team through the NCAA Tournament. Even with the added pressure of the national title on the line, junior fullback Maddy Haller is confident that Duke’s defense will perform as usual.
“We’ve done it all year, we can do it again. Nothing really changes,” Haller said.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.