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Leading from the back

Goalkeeper James Belshaw is the lone senior on this year’s Duke team that has its veterans on the defensive end.
Goalkeeper James Belshaw is the lone senior on this year’s Duke team that has its veterans on the defensive end.

Goalkeeper James Belshaw is not allowed to get a case of senioritis. The Blue Devil finds himself in a unique situation this season—he is the lone senior on the Duke roster.

Although preseason All-American defender Sebastien Ibeagha and a talented sophomore class complement Belshaw in the back, his ability to lead and sustain his performance in front of the net will be pivotal to the 2012 squad’s success.

“I think I’m ready to take on the extra responsibility and lead the team,” Belshaw said. “I’ve been back there for three years now, and with [Ibeagha] in front of me, I feel like we can beat teams back and set an example for the younger guys.”

Soccer America recently named the senior a preseason All-American after starting all 21 games for Duke and earning an All-ACC first team selection in 2011. The Blue Devils enter the 2012 season ranked No. 21 in the Soccer America preseason poll and No. 6 in an ACC poll of the conference’s coaches.

In the ultra-competitive ACC, head coach John Kerr emphasized how keeping morale high will be critical for the young team. He will be counting on Belshaw to set the example.

“I like to be there for the guys on and off the field,” Belshaw said. “I feel like I’m a guy that the younger guys can come to when they need anything…. If we reach our potential there’s no telling how far we can go this season.”

In the Blue Devils’ season-opening loss against No. 18 Notre Dame, Duke displayed a young starting lineup that will be characteristic of the upcoming season. Five sophomores and two freshmen started, and 10 underclassmen saw playing time during the course of the night. In all, the Blue Devils’ roster features 10 juniors, 11 sophomores and five freshmen in addition to Belshaw.

Against the Fighting Irish, Belshaw recorded seven saves and allowed one goal from former Duke forward Ryan Finley.

Within the ACC, Duke will have the opportunity to match up against teams that are also lacking seniority. Clemson and N.C. State only enlist one senior on their rosters, while Virginia and No. 3 Maryland include two and three seniors, respectively. Division powers No. 11 Boston College, No. 19 Wake Forest and No. 6 North Carolina will be the more seasoned squads with seven, seven and five seniors, respectively.

“We forget how young these guys are,” head coach John Kerr said. “When you look around at the number of games they play, you have to kind of hammer into them what’s expected.… So in the preseason I’ve been really going over a lot of basic things to make sure that they’re reminded that these [upperclassmen] have gone through it before, but it needs to be known.”

A rigorous preseason schedule against Big Ten teams Ohio State and Michigan State provided the opportunity for Duke’s five freshmen to become acquainted with the speed and intricacy of the college game. Belshaw recorded a shutout in the opener against the Buckeyes.

“We’re making some serious progress each day. Each session is better and I like the signs that we’re showing,” Kerr said. “The older guys on the team have been fantastic, as well. If they decide that they’re going to help those younger guys along, I think we can really make some big strides.”

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