Almost exactly one year ago, Duke defender Schuyler DeBree suffered a torn ACL, forcing her to sit out as the Blue Devils went on to finish as national runner-ups. Now, the Fair Haven, N.J., native is back, trying to help Duke return to another Final Four.
But heading into Thursday and Sunday tilts with Virginia Tech and Louisville, the Blue Devils will be trying to overcome the season-ending loss of another player—sophomore forward Kayla McCoy, who tore her Achilles Sunday against Boston College.
No. 7 Duke hosts the Cardinals Thursday at 7 p.m. at Koskinen Stadium before facing the No. 19 Hokies Sunday at 4 p.m. at Thompson Field in Blacksburg, Va. McCoy suffered the injury immediately after she scored the second of her two goals against Boston College—and her third in two games—forcing Blue Devil head coach Robbie Church to now look to what he considers his deepest roster ever to fill her void.
“If we had a top-two or three player you can’t lose because of their different ability of play, Kayla’s one of them,” Church said. “She was coming around, had two goals and was named ACC Offensive Player of the Week.”
Duke (6-2-1, 1-0 in the ACC) has allowed a goal in each of its past three games, which it has done only once since Sept. 24 last year—the same game that DeBree's season—came to an end.
DeBree went down while going for a 50-50 ball after committing a turnover on the Blue Devils' side of the field. The junior was playing some of her best soccer of her Duke career, having just helped the Blue Devils shut out then-No. 2 Florida State and been named to the TopDrawerSoccer.com National Team of the Week.
"It was really 60-40 in favor of the BC player, and instead of standing her up and defending her technically—like I remember two seconds before it happened—I just said, 'Screw it, I'm just going to hit her,'" DeBree said. "So it was pure laziness. I just took long strides and put my shoulder down, and right when I planted my left foot, her momentum came through my knee.... And I remember being on the ground, and my only thought was, 'Wow, your laziness probably just altered at least the next month of your life.'"
That next month wound up becoming the rest of her season.
But Church said DeBree beat her projected recovery time by a month, which allowed her to train for and play in the team's two exhibition games this summer when the team traveled to China in early June.
“I remember riding around in a handicap van, being jealous of people just walking around on the sidewalk,” DeBree said.“You don’t realize how lucky you are to just be a mobile, independent human.”
During training camp in August, DeBree had to earn her spot back on a defense that returned all of its starters and finished the year allowing five goals in 12 games.
After winning back her starting spot, the defender has allowed senior Rebecca Quinn to move up to midfield and help an offense that has been inconsistent at times against top competition. Now just a month away from taking off her brace during competition, DeBree can also be there for McCoy in the same way her teammates supported her last year.
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"Our careers have pretty much paralleled at this point," DeBree said.
McCoy—who played four games too many to be eligible for a medical redshirt—can at least think back to Boston College in one positive way. The first goal scorer for the Eagles in Duke's 3-2 win Saturday, senior McKenzie Meehan, also suffered an Achilles injury that forced her to miss all of 2014. But last year, she came back as a junior and led the ACC in goals.
Without McCoy, Duke will likely rely more on freshman Ella Stevens to help boost an offense that has struggled to take advantage of scoring opportunities throughout the season. The Blue Devils have scored just 15 goals in their last nine games since recording nine goals in their season-opener in August.
Stevens will look to notch her fourth goal of the year against Louisville (6-2-1, 1-0), which has tied Duke 0-0 in all three of the teams' matchups. The Cardinals are ninth in the nation with 19.44 shots per game, and freshman Brooklynn Rivers leads the team with four goals and two assists.
If Duke wins Thursday, it will go for its fourth straight victory against a Virginia Tech team that has dropped the Blue Devils in each of their past three matchups, including the 2013 NCAA quarterfinals. Junior Alani Johnson and Murielle Tiernan each have five goals for the Hokies (8-2-0, 0-1), but the team is coming off a 2-0 loss against No. 2 Virginia.