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Duke women's soccer freshmen prepare for college debut Friday

<p>Midfielder Taylor Racioppi leads a strong group of freshmen ready to make an impact for Duke head coach Robbie Church.</p>

Midfielder Taylor Racioppi leads a strong group of freshmen ready to make an impact for Duke head coach Robbie Church.

After losing eight seniors and their starting goalie, the Blue Devils looked to be in need of some new talent following a postseason-less 2014 season.

Fortunately, head coach Robbie Church’s club will be bolstered by the addition of the No. 6 recruiting class in the nation. The six incoming freshmen have already racked up numerous accolades in their high school careers and will be counted on to make an immediate impact this season.

And although these rookies have yet to log a single minute in a regular-season game, the early results have been positive.

“So far I think they’re an awesome fit,” junior captain Christina Gibbons said of the freshmen. “On the field, I think that they’ll bring a lot of different skills, a lot of different options too, in terms of formations that we want to play and definitely a lot more depth to our team.”

One new Blue Devil sure to make a quick impression is Taylor Racioppi. Ranked as the No. 2 player in the class by TopDrawerSoccer.com, Racioppi scored 50 goals and added 16 assists in her three years of high school soccer. An NJSCA H.S. All-America selection in 2014, Racioppi was also the MVP of the East team in the 2014 High School All-America game.

“Taylor is a special player—there’s no question about it,” Duke head coach Robbie Church said.

The Ocean Township, N.J., native has tremendous National Team experience, and the fact that she played up an age group should help her contribute significantly as an 18-year-old freshman. Racioppi has competed internationally, contributing to the U-20 National Team’s second-place finish at the 2015 NTC Invitational in June. Her athleticism gives her versatility and although she is listed as a midfielder, Church is unsure where on the field he will utilize her most.

“She’s very creative on the ball, she’s very comfortable on the ball. She can score, she can score from distance, she can beat you off the dribble,” Church said. “[We’ll] see some exciting times from Taylor in Koskinen Stadium this fall.”

Joining Racioppi is a strong freshmen class that has already bonded closely. The team took a preseason training trip to the North Carolina mountains, which featured plenty of quality time for the teammates to get to know one another off the field.

“It’s a game we love and we get to play it with our best friends,” Racioppi said. “That’s something that I’ve learned quickly, is that these girls are going to be my best friends.”

Her freshmen teammates include Anna Munro from Ottawa, Ontario—the only member of the class from outside the United States. Munro—a 5-foot-9 forward—played for the Ottawa Fury club team during the summer. Another rookie forward, Kayla McCoy has participated in multiple National Team training camps and was ranked as the No. 3 overall player in the class according to TopDrawerSoccer.com. Teammate Chelsea Burns was the Gatorade Florida Player of the Year during her senior campaign, notching 31 goals and 22 assists to lead her high school to the 1A State Championships.

Two native North Carolinians round out the class in Kat McDonald and Mary Love Taylor. The duo competed for the Region III Olympic Development program overseas in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Like several of their classmates, McDonald and Taylor also enjoyed successful high school careers. McDonald earned NSCAA All-America honors and was named the NCSCA North Carolina Player of the Year in her senior season, and Taylor claimed the Big East Conference Defensive Player of the Year and 3A Region Player of the Year titles.

Each new Blue Devil boasts their own noteworthy accomplishments, but joining a storied program as a freshman can be intimidating. The Duke upperclassmen have made sure the freshmen felt welcome and could immediately feel part of the team.

“I think the returning players did a phenomenal job over the spring and the summer to reach out to our freshmen and just welcome them into the soccer family and answer any questions that they had over the course of the summer,” Church said. “Once we start, it’s a whirlwind, so they’ve got to get their feet on the ground.”

The veterans’ efforts have not gone unnoticed by the freshmen.

“It’s been absolutely incredible. They’ve just completely welcomed us with open arms, both on and off the field,” Racioppi said. “The upperclassmen have done an amazing job of creating this culture that is really open and freshmen aren’t afraid to say something in a team meeting or make a bad pass on the field because we have the support around us.”

Not only pleased at the comfort level already demonstrated by his freshmen class, Church has relished their work in preseason training and will push them to reach the potential he sees.

“They’ve played well soccer-wise, but there’s still more in the freshmen and we’re going to be encouraging that,” Church said. “We’re going to need this group of players to really step up and play at a high level as we move forward during our season.”

With the powerful additions to the roster combined with the strong leadership from the returning Blue Devils, the newly revamped team will be one to watch this season.

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