It is crunch time for Duke.
After a disappointing 1-0 loss at Louisiana State Sunday, the No. 22 Blue Devils return home to Koskinen Stadium to square off against the team’s last nonconference foe of the regular season and first ACC opponent. Duke will host Appalachian State Thursday at 7 p.m. before turning its attention to No. 2 Florida State—the defending national champions—for a 1 p.m. game Sunday.
The defeat against the Tigers was the Blue Devils’ first road loss of the season, but they are trying to put that squarely in the rearview mirror heading into the toughest part of their season.
“One thing our captains said was [that] we’re not really looking at it as bouncing back. It’s just another game, another team that we’re going to attack as hard as we have the other ones,” sophomore goalkeeper E.J. Proctor said. “That’s going to be our mentality going into it.”
Duke (5-2-1) will look to work out the kinks during the week’s practices and attempt to finish nonconference play with a strong showing to make the best case possible for an NCAA tournament selection at the end of the season. Although frustrated with the outcome of last Sunday’s game, head coach Robbie Church said his team played well for the majority of the contest—controlling the ball well—and will focus on creating more opportunities on goal.
A familiar Appalachian State team will make the trip to Durham for the upcoming matchup. The Mountaineers (4-1-2) have a similar team composition as the Blue Devils with a majority of team members calling North Carolina home. Proctor—a Wilson, N.C., native—said Appalachian State goalkeeper Sam Steyl—who has seen action in three games—is a close friend from participating in the Olympic Development Program together.
On the opposite end of the field, seniors Merlin Beckwith and Sam Childress lead the Mountaineers offensively with two goals apiece. Proctor said Beckwith—who has also assisted on three of the team’s seven goals—would factor into the Duke scouting report.
“We’re trying to avoid changing our whole style of play because of her,” Proctor said. “Hopefully we can just shut her down and slow down their offense.”
Appalachian State has posted impressive wins early this season. A 1-0 win against 2014 NCAA tournament team High Point and a comeback 3-2 win against storied program UNC Wilmington ensures the Blue Devils will not underestimate the team from Boone, N.C.
“App State has had a great year. It’s one of the best years I can remember them having,” Church said. “I think they’ve got great team spirit. They’ve got great belief.”
After Thursday’s game, Duke will waste no time jumping into ACC play Sunday against the Seminoles (6-0-1). Florida State has outshot its opponents 135-35 through seven games, resulting in a scoring advantage of 19-5. Head coach Mark Krikorian’s squad has a variety of offensive weapons to utilize with four Seminoles—Megan Connolly, Cheyna Williams, Natalia Kuikka and Berglind Thorvaldsdottir—each posting three goals this season.
Sunday’s game will be a quick turnaround for both teams, as Florida State will face UNC Greensboro during the Duke and Appalachian State match up.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity [to play the Seminoles],” Church said. “It’s ‘Where are we in the national scene? Where are we in the ACC scene?’ We find out really early.”
Church stressed the importance of entering ACC play with confidence. With a tough beginning to the season under its belt, Duke has already faced three ranked opponents. The Florida State game will mark the first of 10 ACC games throughout the rest of the regular season. With the top three teams in the coaches poll—Virginia, Florida State and North Carolina—all heralding from the conference, the true challenge for the Blue Devils is just beginning.
“This is why people come play at Duke, because you play in the best conference in the country,” Church said. “It’s not easy. It’s hard, but this is what you come to do, playing against the best players and with the best players. If you want to be measured, this is the conference to be measured in.”