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Duke women's soccer set to open NCAA tournament at home vs. UNC Greensboro

<p>Taylor Racioppi's early goal gave the Blue Devils the edge throughout Sunday's contest.&nbsp;</p>

Taylor Racioppi's early goal gave the Blue Devils the edge throughout Sunday's contest. 

Success breeds success, and given that this year’s Duke squad owns the best regular-season record in program history, it would be easy for the Blue Devils to draw motivation from their accomplishments to fuel their NCAA tournament run.

But it may be Duke’s failures that spur its pursuit of a first College Cup.

The Blue Devils fell 1-0 to rival North Carolina in their first trip to the ACC tournament finals since 2000 Sunday, snapping their 19-game winning streak and picking up their first loss since Aug. 18. Duke has had plenty of time to recover since then and will now need to focus its efforts on the NCAA tournament. The top-seeded Blue Devils will host UNC Greensboro at Koskinen Stadium Saturday at 7 p.m., looking to get back in the win column and advance to the Round of 32.

“The prep for them is just the prep for us, really,” Duke head coach Robbie Church said. “We have to get back here. We have to get back on track and we have to get aggressive. We just have to get hungry again.”

Last Sunday’s contest against the Tar Heels was a chance for Duke (19-2-0) to win its first ACC championship in program history, a feat that would have given the Blue Devils another piece of hardware after capturing the ACC regular-season championship. Although both sides had multiple opportunities to score in the opening half, North Carolina finally broke through 47 seconds after halftime.

Throughout the remainder of the second half, the Blue Devils bent the Tar Heel defense, but it never broke, and Duke suffered heartbreak for just the second time this season. After failing to avenge their season-opening overtime loss to their Tobacco Road rivals, the Blue Devils looked on as the Tar Heels collected their championship trophy at MUSC Health Stadium Sunday afternoon.

“The bus ride home was obviously very quiet, and I think it needed to be,” Church said. “We sat there and watched their ceremony, so we needed to reflect. As a coach, a ton of things go through your head, 'Have you peaked early? Are they still tired? Are they not as hungry?' We needed to just soak the atmosphere up.”

Monday was a very different day for Church and the Duke players. The Blue Devils took their day off to catch up on schoolwork and hit the reset button in anticipation for the following weekend before gathering to watch the NCAA tournament selection show.

Duke received a No. 1 seed, with rival North Carolina, Stanford and South Carolina taking the other three top seeds. The Blue Devils will host games through the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament before potentially traveling to Orlando for the Final Four. Church said his team was excited but unsurprised with the seeding.

“We’ve been in here when we didn’t even know we were going to get called,” Church said. “It’s nice to know that your name is going to appear on the screen. We really felt strongly we were going to be a No. 1 seed. I didn’t see any way we couldn’t be—our body of work was too good through the course of the year.”

In addition to the Spartans (11-7-3), Duke also shares its bracket with second-seeded Texas A&M, No. 3 and reigning NCAA champion Southern California and conference foe Clemson. 

The Blue Devils are eager to tap into their full potential and make a deep run in the tournament, especially considering they will return to Koskinen Stadium—where the team has gone a perfect 11-0 this season—for the first time since Oct. 29. But Duke is not looking past UNC Greensboro, which earned an automatic bid to the tournament after defeating Western Carolina for the Southern Conference championship. 

“To be successful in this tournament, you have to have tunnel vision,” Church said. “You have to look just at who you’re playing. You can’t look at who you have the potential to play in the second round, third round, national championship—all you can do is go to the Round of 32.”


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