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Final Four berth on the line for Duke women's soccer against Stanford

<p>Junior captain Christina Gibbons and the Duke back line will have their hands full with a dangerous Stanford attack Friday night on the road against top-seeded Stanford.</p>

Junior captain Christina Gibbons and the Duke back line will have their hands full with a dangerous Stanford attack Friday night on the road against top-seeded Stanford.

The Blue Devils have 90 minutes to pay the Cardinal back for one of the most heartbreaking losses in the history of the program.

Third-seeded Duke will visit top-seeded Stanford for an Elite Eight clash Friday at 10 p.m. at Laird Q. Cagan Stadium in Stanford, Calif. An upset against the Cardinal—who defeated the Blue Devils 1-0 in the national title game in 2011—would send head coach Robbie Church’s squad to the Final Four for the second time in his 15-year tenure.

“We obviously have to defend very well. We have to make commitments that we’re going to press when we can press and that we’re going to get back in our shape whenever we need to, and then [we have to] tackle and keep our lines nice and compact,” Church said. “And number two, we have to be able to score when we get opportunities. We’ve created opportunities against almost everybody that we have played this year. We have to be ready—when a good opportunity comes, we have to be ready to just take it.”

The Blue Devils (13-5-4) will take on a team that resembles them in several aspects of the game.

In the offensive third of the pitch, Duke enters Friday's match averaging 3.0 goals in its three previous NCAA contests and 2.0 scores per game for the entire season. The attack is fueled by freshmen Taylor Racioppi and Kayla McCoy, who are the Blue Devil leading scorers with seven goals apiece. The two newcomers have combined for three goals already in their first NCAA tournament run and have weapons alongside in sophomores Ashton Miller and Imani Dorsey, who have notched five goals each this fall.

Stanford (19-2-1) has just one defeat at home and has not lost anywhere since Sept. 20, when it dropped a 1-0 decision against unranked Santa Clara. Since the upset at the hands of the Broncos, the Pac-12 champions have reeled off 14 victories, including NCAA tournament wins against San Jose State, BYU and Arizona.

In its two last contests, the Blue Devil defense blanked two of the nation's most prolific attackers—Florida Gulf Coast's Tabby Tindell and Florida’s Savannah Jordan. The duo had combined to score 41 goals this season.

But the Cardinal, like Duke, have several dangerous weapons on its diversified front line. Four Stanford players—Kyra Carusa, Haley Rosen, Andi Sullivan and Jordan DiBiasi—have found the back of the net five times apiece and combined for 14 assists. The Blue Devil defenders will have to pay particular attention to Carusa and diBiasi’s high efficiency in front of the goal—their 10 goals have come on just 72 shot attempts.

“When you have players that have that many goals [like Tindell and Jordan], you definitely scout them and know their tendencies. But going into a team like Stanford, where everyone is a threat, team defending is going to be even more important,” junior captain Christina Gibbons said. “Luckily, all season we’ve faced a lot of really talented teams in the ACC that had a lot of threats all over the field. Hopefully we will be prepared to face that but definitely it is going take a defensive effort from everyone on the field."

The Blue Devils and the Cardinal have conceded only one goal each in the three first rounds of the NCAA tournament. Stanford is tied with Virginia for the seventh-best mark in goals against with just 0.53 per match and has held 12 opponents scoreless. Duke has posted 13 shutouts and allowed 14 goals, good for 0.64 goals per match.

“It will be a battle of goalkeepers,” Church said. “We’ve got two really top goalkeepers in the country and we have two really good defenses in front of both of them. We’re going to need [Duke goalkeeper E.J. Proctor] to come up with some really big saves and hopefully be able to pull one or two goals back to us.”

If the Blue Devils defeat the Cardinal, they will take on the winner of defending champion Florida State and Texas A&M in the Final Four Dec. 4 in Cary, N.C.

“This is such a unique round. You’re only 90 minutes away from the Final Four—only one game,” Church said. “It is a very difficult game for the visiting team to play because the home team has been home [for the three previous rounds].... We’ve got to make good decisions up in the field and we’ve got to work for each other. If we do those things, we have a good opportunity to come back and play in Cary next week."

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