Duke came one step closer to once again making history in an already record-setting season last Sunday afternoon, tying its program record of 22 wins with a victory against fourth-seeded Texas in the Sweet 16.
The top-seeded Blue Devils will host Baylor at Koskinen Stadium Friday at 5 p.m. with a chance to claim that record for themselves in their third Elite Eight appearance in as many years. But for head coach Robbie Church and his exceptional squad, Duke’s continued domination in the NCAA tournament and securing its bid to the Final Four in Orlando, Fla., is all that matters. Anything beyond that is just a bonus.
“We have so many records this team has set and I think that’s special, but it’s down the list,” Church said. “The top of the list is obviously going back to the Final Four. Every athlete—especially if you play any type of NCAA sport—aspires to play in the Final Four. Now we have a chance to play in our Final Four. We’re only one game away. We only have to play 90 minutes, so that’s the most important thing now. That one game, that 90 minutes.”
The Blue Devils (22-2-0) came out to a slow start in the first round of the NCAA tournament, beating UNC Greensboro 1-0 thanks to a 69th-minute goal from senior captain Imani Dorsey. The Elkridge, Md., native—who was named ACC Offensive Player of the Year—leads Duke with 13 goals and nine assists.
The Blue Devils came out with much more fire in their next two contests. With the return of ACC Midfielder of the Year Rebecca Quinn—who had three games to play for the Canadian Women's National Team—Duke had two stellar appearances in their Friday and Sunday matchups, scoring a combined 10 goals while shutting out both opponents. The Blue Devils have yet to give up a goal in NCAA tournament play and will look to continue their defensive success against the Bears.
“We really team-defend,” Church said. “I just thought we defended really, really well and I thought we were committed to defend, and that’s what separates us from a lot of teams.”
Like Duke, Baylor (15-5-3) also started its NCAA run with a close call in the first round. The Bears dealt Rice a 3-2 loss on a go-ahead goal from sophomore striker Raegan Padgett in the 74th minute.
But the second and third rounds proved to be much tougher for Baylor than they did for the Blue Devils. After falling behind 1-0 to third-seeded Southern California—the reigning College Cup champions—27 minutes into the second half, the Bears tied the game in the final minute of play. Neither side could find the back of the net in overtime, but the Trojans failed to connect on a single penalty kick, allowing Baylor to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. The Bears then took down Notre Dame with a 3-2 overtime victory just two days later.
“Our spacing is going to have to be really good, because Baylor is a pressing team and they want to press us all over the field,” Church said. “The little things are going to be important. We have to be ready.”
Duke has the added impetus of besting its effort from last season. The Blue Devils dropped a 1-0 decision against West Virginia in the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament in 2016, failing to return to the Final Four after falling to Penn State in the 2015 championship game.
A win Friday would give Duke its fourth trip to the Final Four in program history and its third since 2011. More importantly, it would give the 16 Blue Devils who were part of the 2015 runner-up campaign a second chance to bring home the program’s first national championship.
“This team has talked about going to the Final Four and this team’s goal has been playing in the Final Four and playing for the national championship,” Church said. “You have to get there first. This game gets us there, so that’s what is motivating us.”
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