When you’re 10-0 in your last 10 games, having beaten three ranked teams along the way, and preparing to face a team that missed the NCAA tournament the last three years, why bother with it?
The No. 4 Blue Devils insist they have many improvements to make before they face tougher ACC competition. They will put those challenges to the test this weekend against Louisville Friday at 7 p.m. at Dr. Mark & Cindy Lynn Stadium. If they win, it will also mean they can snap one of the oddest streaks in NCAA women’s soccer history, with all four previous matchups between the two teams resulting in 0-0 draws.
Since Duke’s first game against Louisville in 2006, 11 of its 113 conference games against teams other than the Cardinals were 0-0 finishes, making the likelihood of all four games in the series being 0-0 about 0.01 percent.
Asked if he was hoping for a 0-0 tie or a 1-1 tie if it came down to it, Blue Devil head coach Robbie Church deferred.
“I’d like a 1-0 [win], I’ll choose B,” he chided.
“There’s a long list, I could keep going on and on with things we have to do better,” Church added. “We were too careless with the ball [Sunday against Pittsburgh.] I think our transition to defense—let’s not be blinded by three shutouts in the ACC.”
The Blue Devils did not look that sharp against the Panthers in a 2-0 victory at home. They struggled advancing the ball up the field on numerous occasions, and freshman Taylor Mitchell, who has gained a starting spot on the back line, did not look comfortable with the ball at her feet, though she seemed quite capable of shutting down opposing threats.
The defense has allowed just one goal in the past seven games, and now the team has seven X’s to cross on their arms when they take the field on Friday. They mark an X for every shutout they record, and the 14-year tradition continues this year, with the 2017 team tied for the most shutouts through the first 11 games of any season during that span.
Backing up the defense, goalkeeper EJ Proctor has returned to 2015 NCAA tournament form, when she earned honors as the College Cup Most Outstanding Player on Defense. Proctor has a .840 save percentage, allows 0.5 goals per game—which ranks 15th in the nation—and has solidified her starting spot.
Church said at the start of the year she would not necessarily start during her senior year, as the team has a redshirt freshman in Brooke Heinsohn who was the top-ranked prospect in her class. But Church said that he wants to stick with what is working, and that is Proctor, at least for now.
The Blue Devils (10-1, 3-0 in the ACC) will face an offense that has only been shut out twice this year, and it will test just how sturdy the Duke back line is. Church played redshirt senior Rebecca Quinn on the back line against Pittsburgh when he subbed out Mitchell, resulting in less strength up top.
“They’ve always been very good in the goal, and they’ve always been very good defensively,” Church said about the Cardinals. “I think they’re better offensively this year. I think they’ve got some more creative players and some more attacking players.”
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In talking about Louisville’s strengths at first, though, Church refocused the question back on how the Blue Devils can’t get complacent. Indeed, though the Cardinals (7-4, 1-2) lost just one starter from last year, they have a record that is two points worse than at the same point in 2016, when they did not win any of their final seven conference games.
Louisville also is not particularly strong at home, owning a 4-3 record this year at its three year-old stadium.
If there is one thing Louisville can do to prepare, some words of advice would be to mark Imani Dorsey. The Blue Devils’ leading scorer has a goal in eight different games this year, transitioning from a promising prospect her freshman year to a clutch goal-scorer her sophomore year to one of the best in the country as a senior.
But Duke has shown it can diversify its offense, which has come in the form of goals from eight different players during the past seven games. In other words, it is hard to find where the Blue Devils’ weaknesses lie.
“They want to be great. Not good,” Church said of his team that still lost three vital seniors from last year.
Shortly after he said that, at the end of Tuesday practice, the team put their hands in to chant “1-2-3 Devils.” Sounding weak, someone remarked, “That was horrible.” So that’s at least a place for improvement.