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Duke women's soccer eyes historic second straight win against North Carolina

<p>Senior Toni Payne and the Blue Devils play three top-10 teams at home in the next week&mdash;North Carolina, Minnesota and West Virginia.</p>

Senior Toni Payne and the Blue Devils play three top-10 teams at home in the next week—North Carolina, Minnesota and West Virginia.

North Carolina women’s soccer is the most dominant program of all time, having won 22 of the 36 NCAA championships ever contested.

The Tar Heels’ dominance has extended to their rivalry against Duke, which has lost 37 of the 41 meetings between the two schools.

But after a breakthrough win against North Carolina last year and a national title game appearance, the Blue Devils have the unique chance to notch a historic win in just the third week of the regular season.

No. 7 Duke will look to earn its second straight win against the No. 8 Tar Heels for the first time in program history Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Koskinen Stadium as part of the Duke Nike Classic. To finish up the two-day event, the Blue Devils will also host No. 9 Minnesota Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Because of ACC scheduling, the Blue Devils will not face North Carolina in conference play this year, so the teams decided to do battle early in the season instead. 

“We have an unbelievable weekend,” Duke head coach Robbie Church said. “It’s not just Carolina, but it’s also Minnesota…. To have two top-10 teams in our tournament and play them all within 48 hours is going to be a great challenge, but it’s one we’re really anxious for and looking forward to.”

The Blue Devils (3-1-0) enter the weekend fresh off a 2-0 victory against Coastal Carolina, a game defined by Duke’s season-high 39 shot attempts and the return of senior midfielder Rebecca Quinn. The Toronto native recorded one assist and four shots in her first game since winning bronze with the Canadian national team at the Olympics.

Quinn’s return comes just in time for the All-ACC performer to transition back into the college game ahead of the Blue Devils’ toughest test of the season so far. 

In Duke’s variations of a 3-2-5 formation, the Blue Devils are counting on several versatile players like Quinn to send in passes from the sidelines to create more scoring chances. Duke will need to be more efficient when it gets those chances than it was last weekend against the Chanticleers and its 2-1 loss to Arkansas to knock off the Tar Heels (3-0-0).

“Now we finally got our whole team together,” Church said. “We’ve learned a lot about our new players who have played a really big role in our team. At the point we’re at now, we can kind of [start focusing on] what is our best formation, what is our best way to attack and what is our best way to defend.”

Last year, the Blue Devils’ 1-0 upset in Chapel Hill gave their young players the confidence that propelled them to the national title game. Duke is hoping a similar situation unfolds this year, with freshmen like Ella Stevens, Mia Gyau and Olivia Erlbeck getting their first taste of top-10 competition.

All three have gotten multiple starts early in the year, with Stevens notching goals in the Blue Devils’ first two games and Erlbeck accounting for Duke’s only score in the loss to the Razorbacks. 

“I’m not sure they’ll all start, but there will be a lot of freshmen that will at least play, and that will help their growth at this level,” Church said. “They learn they got to play quicker. They learn they got to open themselves up. They got to think before the ball gets to them, so there’s a lot of positive things coming out of these games that will help the freshmen moving forward.”

Duke has several new faces making contributions this season, but its 10 starters returning from last year’s team will likely preach the importance of maintaining intensity Sunday against against the Golden Gophers (4-0-0) regardless of Friday’s outcome.

Minnesota boasts one of the best defenses in the nation early in the year, having allowed only one goal in 360 minutes. The Golden Gophers are coached by Stefanie Golan, a Duke alumna who played for the Blue Devils from 1997 to 2001.

After faltering in a challenging environment a week ago, Duke will look to show that it capable of consistently holding its own against top-10 teams. The Blue Devils will host No. 4 West Virginia next week, giving a veteran-laden group the chance to rise right back up in the polls after dropping five spots this week. 

“They’re probably more confident,” Church said of the team’s veterans. “These players have been through a lot of big games in their career, and that builds confidence into their play. They’re still just as respectful of North Carolina, but we try not to worry and spend too much time focusing on them. We have to worry about the things we need to do better.”

Duke has several new faces making contributions this season, but its 10 starters returning from last year’s team will likely preach the importance of maintaining intensity Sunday against against Minnesota (4-0-0) regardless of Friday’s outcome.

The Golden Gophers boast one of the best defenses in the nation early in the year, having allowed only one goal in 360 minutes. The Golden Gophers are coached by Stefanie Golan, a Duke alumna who played for the Blue Devils from 1997 to 2001.

After faltering in a challenging environment a week ago, Duke will look to show that it capable of consistently holding its own against top competition. The Blue Devils will host No. 4 West Virginia next week, giving a veteran group the chance to rise right back up in the polls after dropping five spots this week. 

“They’re probably more confident,” Church said of the team’s veterans. “These players have been through a lot of big games in their career, and that builds confidence into their play. They’re still just as respectful of North Carolina, but we try not to worry and spend too much time focusing on them. We have to worry about the things we need to do better.”

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