After hitting the ground running in a pair of season-opening routs, the Blue Devils now have to travel for their first true road test of the year.
No. 2 Duke ventures to Fayetteville, Ark., to battle Arkansas Friday night at 8 p.m. at Razorback Field before returning home to host Coastal Carolina Sunday at 7 p.m. at Koskinen Stadium. The Blue Devils outscored Central Florida and Wofford by a combined score of 12-2 last weekend at the UNC Nike Classic, burying both opponents in the early minutes of the match.
With 10 starters returning from last year’s squad that reached the NCAA championship game, the Blue Devils have avoided the early-season mishaps that often plague teams still trying to develop chemistry. Duke scored three goals in the opening 15 minutes against both the Knights and the Terriers and will look for a similar start against the Razorbacks.
“The goals will come. We have some dynamic players up front. We’re older than we’ve been in the past with juniors and seniors, with good players out there,” Blue Devil head coach Robbie Church said. “We have high expectations for those players, and we have high expectations for all our players—even the ones who came in after [the starters] played very, very well.”
After posting a 6-11-1 ledger last season, Arkansas (2-0) is also off to a quick start and earned a pair of one-goal victories against James Madison and Virginia Commonwealth last weekend. The Razorbacks return a veteran back line with three starting senior defenders and senior goalkeeper Cameron Carter, but one freshman has made all the difference up front so far this year.
Forward Stefani Doyle wasted no time making her presence felt on the field, notching her first career goal less than 11 minutes into her first game against the Dukes. Doyle—a four-star recruit from Lewisville, Texas—found the back of the net two more times during the weekend, totaling a team-high six points in Arkansas’ two victories.
Both Church and senior captain Christina Gibbons noted they expect the Razorbacks to play a straightforward, physical game, which should serve as a good barometer for some of the ACC foes the Blue Devils will face as the season progresses.
“[Arkansas is] a very direct team. They’re physical, they play hard, they’re bringing in extra stands for this game. This is a big game,” Church said. “We’ve taken our program to that level, where everybody—if they beat us, it’s a quality win for them. If we beat them, it’s a quality win for us, because they’re off to a good start, a 2-0 start.”
Duke (2-0) left for Fayetteville Wednesday afternoon, providing an opportunity for the team to bond away from campus while preparing for Friday’s showdown. For the Blue Devil freshmen—who accounted for three goals last weekend—this will be their first trip away from campus after spending weeks in Durham for preseason training.
Playing in a challenging environment against an SEC opponent will serve as a stress test for this Duke squad, giving Church an opportunity to see how different player combinations respond.
“It’s important to go on these away weekends and figure out how the team plays together and plays against different kinds of opponents,” Gibbons said. “You see so many of everything in the ACC, it’s good to be tested early. Even if they’re not quite the caliber that some ACC teams are, it’s good to see how we react to certain situations and stuff, so it’ll be good for our team to go away for the weekend, spend some time together, and play another game.”
After Friday’s battle, the Blue Devils will return to Durham for their first home game of the season against the Chanticleers. Coastal Carolina finished 12-7-1 last season and is off to a 1-0-1 start this year after collecting a 4-0 victory against Wofford.
Duke may have some reinforcements on the way for Sunday’s contest. Church said Rebecca Quinn—a senior who collected a bronze medal with the Canadian team—is scheduled to drive back to Durham Friday, but he was unsure when the defender and midfielder will get back in the lineup.
“She’s going to be here this weekend, and we’ll see how she feels,” Church said. “She played a lot of minutes early [in the Olympics], and not as many minutes later, so we’ll just see how she feels and what she’s doing."
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