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Duke women's soccer readies for rare season opener against rival North Carolina

<p>Kayla McCoy will take the field Friday for the first time in nearly a year after missing most of last season with a torn Achilles' tendon.</p>

Kayla McCoy will take the field Friday for the first time in nearly a year after missing most of last season with a torn Achilles' tendon.

The last time Duke played North Carolina, it had to battle a monsoon and settle for a frustrating draw.

Now, it will have to battle the scheduling gods.

The No. 12 Blue Devils will be in the unusual position of opening their regular season at 6 p.m. Friday against their archrivals, the No. 6 Tar Heels, in what will be counted as a nonconference game. The lone contest between the two teams this season is part of the UNC Nike Classic played in Koka Booth Mini Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park and will not affect either team’s ACC regular-season title chances.

“It’s weird, there’s no question,” Duke head coach Robbie Church said. “It’s really weird to be preparing for them. But we’re not really preparing so much for them—we don’t have video on their personnel.... There’s been very little Carolina preparation, but a lot of Duke preparation.”

The Tar Heels will return just six starters from the squad that was outshot 30-6 last September against Duke in a rainstorm but forced a scoreless draw after 110 minutes of play. That gives Church little to work with in terms of preparation for North Carolina’s individual players. 

But those that are returning are looking to build upon the momentum the squad built last season, when it finished just one game shy of a national championship appearance.

One of those six is sophomore forward Bridgette Andrzejewski, one of the 30 players on the watch list for the Hermann Trophy—the sport's national player of the year award. Even before her breakout freshman campaign in which she tied for the ACC lead in goals scored and finished second in points per game, her head coach Anson Dorrance called her a “rocket ship” because of her elite speed.

To hold the Tar Heels scoreless for the third year in a row, the Blue Devils will have to corral one of the sport's potential breakout stars, evidently no small task.

“She’s big, she’s strong [and she’s] going to be a challenge for us, there’s no question about that,” Church said. “We’d love to limit her touches, but she’s a dangerous player—she’ll probably cause some havoc on us. But our backs have done terrifically as a team preseason, and defensively as a team, I like where we are.”

A Duke team that suffered from injuries to three key players last season appears to be at full strength, returning 10 starters and fresh off an impressive exhibition win last Friday against No. 13 Clemson. The Blue Devil defense, which allowed just half a goal per game in ACC contests last year—good for second in the conference—kept performing at a high level, allowing the Tigers to get off just two shots on goal in a 2-1 victory.

One of the three threats that missed significant time, Taylor Racioppi—who was sidelined with a lower-leg injury for the final 12 games of 2016—has shown no signs of lingering effects from the ailment. Less than four minutes into the match, the midfielder drew a foul to set up a successful penalty kick from Chelsea Burns and scored a goal of her own later in the half.

“She gave Clemson such a hard time with her movement off the ball," Church said. “She accelerates well, she finishes well, she’s a goal scorer. We missed her, Kayla [McCoy] and Rebecca [Quinn]. It’s great to have her back. She's a special player so we expect a really good year from her.”

McCoy was attending a wedding and unable to compete in the match against the Tigers, but Church said the junior forward is at full strength after suffering a torn Achilles' tendon last season that forced her to miss Duke's last 14 games. In the nine games McCoy played in, she led the Blue Devils in scoring after earning All-ACC Freshman Team honors in 2015.

McCoy will return Friday, which will give Church flexibility at center forward, mixing her in with Racioppi at the position.

Quinn—an All-American midfielder who was granted a medical redshirt to play as a fifth-year senior after missing most of 2016 with turf toe—played 68 minutes Friday. The Canadian Olympian will help anchor a stout goalkeeping unit that is in the midst of a tight competition.

Redshirt freshman Brooke Heinsohn and E.J. Proctor, who ranked fourth in the ACC in goals against average last season, split time against Clemson. Heinsohn, who competed with the U.S. U-20 national team last year at the World Cup, has proven to be a serious challenger to Proctor's starting job.

Church would not say who would start Friday, but said that whoever starts will likely play the entire game and then sit Sunday against Xavier in favor of the other.

“We’re in an unbelievable position of having two great goalkeepers,” Church said. “We’ve never been in this position with the quality of these goalkeepers.They’ve pushed each other hard. They’ve both had great preseasons and we expect them both to play a lot early in the year—we’re just going to see how it all shakes out.“

Ben Leonard profile
Ben Leonard

Managing Editor 2018-19, 2019-2020 Features & Investigations Editor 

A member of the class of 2020 hailing from San Mateo, Calif., Ben is The Chronicle's Towerview Editor and Investigations Editor. Outside of the Chronicle, he is a public policy major working towards a journalism certificate, has interned at the Tampa Bay Times and NBC News and frequents Pitchforks. 


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