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After NCAA tournament clash, Hilliard and Rist working together on Duke's back line

<p>Graduate student defender Jared Rist and the Blue Devils must keep a dangerous Wildcat offense from striking first Tuesday.</p>

Graduate student defender Jared Rist and the Blue Devils must keep a dangerous Wildcat offense from striking first Tuesday.

Duke defender Tyler Hilliard may be taking the expression “keep your friends close and your enemies closer” a bit more literally than most.

After his undergraduate soccer career at Syracuse came to an abrupt end in the third round of the 2014 NCAA tournament, the Atlanta native returned to the South to join the Blue Devils for his final year of eligibility. Little did he know that he would be joined by the player who scored the go-ahead overtime goal to officially put the Orange’s season in the books—former Georgetown defender Jared Rist.

“[When] I found out that he was coming in [to Duke] in December, I didn’t know who Jared was,” Hilliard said. “Soon after they told me ‘That’s the kid that scored on you in the NCAA tournament.’ Georgetown actually put us out of the Sweet 16 my sophomore year and my senior year. We had a conversation and put it behind us, but I told him not to bring it up anymore.”

Ninth-seeded Syracuse was fresh off a 2-1 win against Penn State. The Orange routed the Nittany Lions in every category, outshooting them 19-5, allowing no corner kicks and holding them to just one shot on goal. Hilliard and the rest of the team came away with a confidence they would carry with them to their match against the eighth-seeded Hoyas just a week later.

Georgetown was coming off a nail-biter after narrowly avoiding an upset bid from Old Dominion. With just five seconds remaining in double overtime, midfielder Arun Basuljevic knocked one into the back of the net to secure a spot in the third round of the NCAA tournament.

On Nov. 30, Syracuse traveled to Washington to challenge Georgetown in a battle of stout defenses. The Orange entered the tournament ranked third in the nation in goals against average, and the Hoyas checked in at eighth. Both Hilliard and Rist were major contributors to their respective teams’ impressive defensive efforts throughout the 2014 season.

Each side saw numerous opportunities throughout the first half of the match, but their reputations as strong defensive programs were on full display. Neither team could finish a look through the first 45 minutes. Early in the second half, though, Syracuse caught Georgetown’s back line in a rare and momentary lapse and took advantage. After a quick corner, sophomore Alex Halis maneuvered around the Hoya defense to bury the first goal of the contest in the 55th minute.

“It just takes 10 seconds,” Rist said. “You can have your fans chanting about moving on to the next round and then 10 seconds later the ball is in the back of the net. It really is all 90 minutes.”

Georgetown managed to even the score in the 80th minute by notching its first goal off a corner kick all season—its first in 129 tries. The two teams exchanged attempts in their respective offensive thirds, but ultimately neither side could prevail in regulation.

It only took three minutes and 43 seconds of overtime play for the Hoyas to score the go-ahead goal and end the Orange’s—and Hilliard’s—2014 title bid. Rist rose up above Hilliard on the far post to head a corner into the back of the net for his first career goal as a Hoya.

“It was definitely a bit of a sore subject at first,” Rist said. “We’ve talked about it, though, and we’ve both moved past it. It’s not as much sore for me but I won’t bring it up around him. I know he’s tired of seeing it and tired of hearing about it.”

The two would meet again nearly nine months later, but this time not as rivals. Hilliard and Rist both decided to capitalize on the opportunity to help mend Duke head coach John Kerr’s porous defense by bringing their talents to Durham. Although there were some hard feelings at first, the defenders have put their history behind them.

These days you can find Hilliard and Rist standing side-by-side on the Blue Devils’ back line. Their veteran presence has helped transform a young and inexperienced Duke defense—which allowed a conference-high 34 goals in 2014—to one that has allowed an average of 12.0 shots and 1.6 goals per contest this season.

“I know that [Duke] struggled a little bit last year defensively,” Rist said. “I knew that after last season there was a need on the defensive end. Both Tyler Hilliard and I came from really strong defensive programs. I’ve seen what it takes to be a successful team in college soccer and if I’m able to help us have a successful season at Duke, that would be somewhat of a dream come true.”

In addition to their contributions in the defensive third, Hilliard and Rist have tallied three points apiece this season. Hilliard has notched a goal and an assist in his short time as a Blue Devil, and Rist has added three assists.

It seems that the most fitting ending to this story of rivals becoming teammates would be a picture of the duo hoisting the 2015 College Cup into the air together. For the couple of months until then, however, rest assured that these two defensive veterans have already worked wonders in bolstering an otherwise young Duke squad.


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