With just two losses in their nine nonconference games and a season-high No. 15 ranking to boot, the Blue Devils seemed ready for a bright ACC campaign. But after collecting only two points in its first four conference games, Duke must get back on track.
The Blue Devils will head south to Coral Gables, Fla., Thursday as they look to fend off Miami at 7 p.m. at Cobb Stadium and collect an elusive first ACC win. From there, Duke will remain on the road, working out in South Florida Friday before heading directly to Kentucky as it prepares for a 1 p.m. battle against Louisville Sunday at Dr. Mark and Cindy Lynn Stadium. The Blue Devils saw their brilliant defensive numbers—just seven goals allowed through their first 12 games—inflate last weekend as they were defeated 4-2 by No. 9 Virginia Tech in a lopsided matchup at Koskinen Stadium.
“This is an important weekend for us,” Duke head coach Robbie Church said. “We feel like any time you go on the road in the ACC, it’s going to be a challenge. But I think our kids are looking forward to it because I think there’s a lot of upset people about our performance on Sunday and the only way to get over that is to move on to the next game.”
The Hurricanes (4-7-0, 1-3-0 in the ACC) have a deceiving conference record. They took No. 7 Clemson to double overtime before falling 2-1, but recovered to drop No. 16 Notre Dame 1-0 in South Florida in yet another double overtime battle last Friday. A pair of Hurricanes picked up ACC awards this week, as junior forward Gracie Lachowecki and redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Catalina Perez were named Offensive and Defensive Player of the Week, respectively. Lachowecki tallied the game-winner in the upset win and Perez maintained a clean sheet in 106 minutes in her second career collegiate start.
Against a Miami back line that has allowed 1.8 goals per game in ACC play, a Blue Devil offensive attack that leads the conference in shots has the opportunity to take advantage and return to its old habits of putting the ball in the back of the net.
“We haven’t done a good job of finishing balls, but we have created opportunities, whoever’s been in there, if it’s been [freshmen Taylor Racioppi and Kayla McCoy or redshirt sophomore Cassie Pecht] or if it’s been other players,” Church said. “We’re doing a good job of creating opportunities and chances, but we haven’t done a really great job of finishing those chances.”
Although Church emphasized that his team was primarily focused on Thursday’s battle in Coral Gables, Sunday’s game at Louisville (6-5-1, 2-2-0) is another chance for Duke (6-4-3, 0-2-2) to regain its footing in a wide-open ACC. The Cardinals boast a pair of talented goalkeepers to go along with a balanced offense that has seen nine different players get on the scoresheet. They won 1-0 Sunday at Syracuse and will have their hands full with No. 1 North Carolina Thursday night in Chapel Hill.
“I think our record is obviously very deceiving in ACC play because we have played the upper half of the ACC at this point,” Church said. “We got two draws out of playing the [then-No. 2] team in the country in Florida State and then we got a draw when we really played well against Boston College.”
Duke dominated its opponents early on, led by the strong play of sophomore goalkeeper E.J. Proctor--. Her 42 saves in 13 games—third-most in the ACC—have enabled the Blue Devils to maintain a solid back line up until last Sunday, when the Hokies scored four times, the highest total against Duke this season. Church admitted that some of the blame for his team’s recent defensive issues falls on him and his coaching staff’s tactics.
“We were trying to go and add an extra player to the offensive side and that hurt us against Virginia Tech in the way they played,” he said. “You’ve got to give Virginia Tech credit. We had the ball most of the game and we actually outshot them by about five or six shots, but [they] also finished three phenomenal goals.”
After the Hokie onslaught, Duke has re-emphasized its team defense in practice this week.
“Up until the Virginia Tech game, we had only given up six goals all year [in ACC competition],” Church said. “So we’re going back to where we were and can hang our hat on team defending as a whole group.”
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A junior from just outside Philadelphia, Mitchell is probably reminding you how the Eagles won the Super Bowl this year and that the Phillies are definitely on the rebound. Outside of The Chronicle, he majors in Economics, minors in Statistics and is working toward the PJMS certificate, in addition to playing trombone in the Duke University Marching Band. And if you're getting him a sandwich with beef and cheese outside the state of Pennsylvania, you best not call it a "Philly cheesesteak."