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Top-seeded Duke women's soccer prepares for ACC tournament semifinals vs. Virginia

<p>Kat McDonald's late game heroics gave Duke the edge it needed to secure a win against Wake Forest Thursday.</p>

Kat McDonald's late game heroics gave Duke the edge it needed to secure a win against Wake Forest Thursday.

Duke has been chasing perfection since its season began in August, accruing a record-breaking 18-game winning streak, a flawless 10-0-0 ACC slate and a regular-season ACC championship along the way. Needless to say, 2017 has been kind to the Blue Devils.

But from this point forward, merely chasing perfection will not suffice. Duke will need to achieve perfection, period.

The Blue Devils will travel to Charleston, S.C., for the end of the ACC tournament at MUSC Health Stadium this weekend. After beating Boston College at home in last week's quarterfinals, Duke will face fourth-seeded Virginia Friday at 5:30 p.m in the semifinals. Should it come out on top in its second meeting with the Cavaliers in eight days, the Blue Devils will move on to face the winner of No. 3 seed N.C. State and No. 2 seed North Carolina in the finals Sunday at 1 p.m.

“A great quality about this team is that we’re not satisfied,” senior captain Imani Dorsey said. “We know that even though we have 18 wins now, the next one isn’t a given. We have to work for it, and every single game we step on the field, we have to earn it.”

Duke (18-1-0) brought this tenacity to the field Oct. 26 in its 1-0 nailbiter against Virginia to wrap up the regular season. Both sides had numerous promising opportunities in front of the goal throughout the game, but they remained scoreless with time winding down. 

The Blue Devils finally broke through with just 3:41 left on the clock. Junior striker Kayla McCoy—who leads Duke with 28 points on the season—sent a hard pass into the six-yard box, where classmate Kat McDonald fell to her knees to hammer the ball into the back of the net. But given how close that last meeting was, the Blue Devils will be taking no chances in looking ahead to the finals.

“There’s no looking ahead when you’re playing Virginia,” head coach Robbie Church said. “If you’re playing somebody else, maybe so, but if it’s Virginia, you just look at Virginia and worry about everything else later.”

Duke swept the major ACC awards announced Thursday, owning the conference's Offensive Player of the Year, Midfielder of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Coach of the Year and the first-team All-ACC goalkeeper. But one of those award-winners will not take the field this weekend.

Redshirt senior Rebecca Quinn will not be with Duke for the rest of the ACC tournament or the first round of the NCAA tournament. The Toronto native—who helped lead Canada to a Bronze medal at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro—will be joining the Canadian National Team for its two exhibition matches against the U.S. National Team Nov. 9 and Nov. 12. McDonald will start in the midfield in her place Friday.

The Blue Devils will certainly feel Quinn’s loss, as the ACC Midfielder of the Year’s veteran presence has anchored Duke all season. But Church expressed his confidence in McDonald’s ability to step into the starting role under the brightest lights his team has faced this season.

“[McDonald] has been more than capable of doing that,” Church said. "There are no excuses—we play with whoever we have on the field. But as a coaching staff, we consider Kat a starter anyway. She’s been a very, very valuable player.”

If the Blue Devils can earn their 19th consecutive win in what promises to be a tough grudge match against Virginia (11-4-4), they will move on to face one of their in-state rivals. The Wolfpack finished the regular season riding a five-game winning streak and dealt sixth-seeded Notre Dame a decisive 4-1 loss in the opening round of the ACC tournament.

The Tar Heels, on the other hand, finished their regular season with back-to-back draws against Louisville and the Fighting Irish, yielding the ACC regular-season crown to Duke and dropping them to the second seed for the conference tournament. The Blue Devils' Tobacco Road rivals are the only team that has beat them all year in an overtime thriller to open the season, and Duke would welcome an opportunity for redemption on a much bigger stage.

“It would be very sweet to win the ACC championship after losing to [the Tar Heels] in our first game, but they're just another team in the way of our goal of getting an ACC championship,” Dorsey said. “That North Carolina rivalry is special, but if we play N.C. State in the final, that would be pretty crazy as well.”

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