When Duke head coach Robbie Church found out via email in late March that his team had been invited to Beijing for the seventh annual Consultation on People-to-People Exchange, he was not sure the Blue Devils would be able to participate.
With one of his players injured and unable to travel, two studying abroad and three seniors preparing for international competition—Rebecca Quinn with the Canadian national team and Toni Payne and Christina Gibbons with the U.S. U-23 national team—there were several questions that had to be answered for Duke to go abroad for a week in early June.
But with the opportunity to be the first college women's soccer program involved in the conference—which brings political representatives from both countries together—Church quickly realized the chance was too unique to pass up.
“All of a sudden, we went like, ‘We’ve got to do this!’ Church said. “This doesn’t roll around all the time, I’m sure in my lifetime.”
Church and the Blue Devils will leave for Beijing Thursday for a week-long trip. Duke is expected to play a full-sided 11-on-11 match against Beijing Normal University and a 7-on-7 friendly in the Forbidden City against a local university, but much of the trip will not involve soccer.
As was the case when the Blue Devil basketball team made a similar trip in 2011, Duke will visit historical and cultural sites in China’s capital and participate in activities associated with the People-to-People Exchange.
Among the sites on the team's itinerary are the Great Wall of China, the Summer Palace, the Silk Market and the Forbidden City.
“I never really had China on my bucket list of places to go, but now that we’ve researched some of the cool parts of China, we’re definitely looking forward to seeing some of the cultural stuff as well as playing," junior defender Morgan Reid said.
In addition to missing several returners, the Blue Devils will make the trip without their freshmen, who are not allowed to start playing with the team this early in the summer due to NCAA rules.
However, sophomore midfielder Taylor Racioppi—who will likely redshirt next season if selected to the U-20 national team in mid-June—will be coming from a U-20 World Cup test run in Papua New Guinea to meet the team in China.
In addition to the 11-on-11 game, the Blue Devils expect to play against a local university in the Forbidden City, a 180-acre square in the heart of Beijing that was home to the Chinese imperial palace from 1420 to 1912.
There is not a lot of green area inside the walls, so it will be back to the Blue Devils’ younger days of playing smaller-side scrimmages.
“From what we see, they’re sending us notes saying, ‘Seven soccer.’ So we take that as 7-on-7 soccer,” Church said. “Obviously the interpretation coming back and forth has been a little bit interesting.”
Duke’s trip falls in line with a narrative that dates back to 1971, when China invited a group of American ping pong players to the mainland—the first contact between the two nations in 22 years.
Many have attributed that visit—dubbed “Ping-Pong diplomacy”—as a precursor to President Richard Nixon visiting China the following year, which significantly thawed relations between the democratic and communist nations.
The University has also helped maintain positive American-Sino relations with the 2014 completion of Duke Kunshan University, a joint Sino-American venture in higher education.
Many local Blue Devils started practicing for the trip May 16, and in the days leading up to the trip have had more and more of their teammates join them as they continue their offseason training and look to return to the College Cup final next fall.
"This group is a really fun group to be around so we’re all excited to get back together, play and start preparing for next season in an amazing location,” senior defender Lizzy Raben said.
Amrith Ramkumar contributed reporting.
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