For the second season in a row, Duke’s path to the NCAA tournament may have to go through its most hated rival.

This time, the Blue Devils are hoping to reverse the outcome.

After missing the tournament for the first time since its inaugural season last year after dropping two straight games against the Tar Heels, Duke will travel to Chapel Hill to take on No. 5 North Carolina Saturday at 3 p.m for its last regular season conference matchup. Currently, the Blue Devils are right outside Inside Lacrosse’s top 20 and are ranked 29th in RPI, and only 26 teams make the tournament.

Regardless, one of the team’s captains is trying not to focus on the stakes of the game.

“Just taking one day at a time, one game at a time. If we get caught up in that kind of stuff, we lose focus on what’s important,” senior attack Grace Fallon said. “[We are] staying focused on playing our best lacrosse Saturday and letting the rest of the tournament stuff take care of itself.”

All of this comes on the heels of perhaps Duke’s most disappointing loss this season. Battling against Notre Dame—another team right on the bubble—the Blue Devils (7-7, 2-4 in the ACC) mounted an intense second-half comeback after entering the period trailing 6-1, but eventually fell short on a goal in the last 30 seconds of the game.

Duke head coach Kerstin Kimel thinks the response of her squad this year is far better than how her team would have rebounded last season.

“That’s a dramatic difference from our team last year. We were able to see and appreciate all the good stuff that we did in that game, and that’s a really good thing for this group,” Kimel said. “We’re really excited for the weekend. I can’t ask for a whole lot more.”

The Blue Devils cut the deficit against the Fighting Irish by getting out in transition, as they used their speed to generate odd-man rushes. With the advantage, the offense was able to find easy cuts in front of the net, which would have been nearly impossible to stop for any goalkeeper.

Against a largely inexperienced defensive unit with sophomore Elise Hennessey between the pipes due to All-American Caylee Waters’ graduation—Duke will have to continue to get out in transition if it wants to land the upset.

“That’s definitely one of our strengths, and we’ve seen that throughout a lot of games we’ve played well in. Just really using that to our advantage,” Fallon said. “They’re a really quick and athletic team that could probably keep up with us, but that’s something we’re really good at and have really good chemistry with.”

On the other side of the ball, the Blue Devils have shuffled their starting goalkeepers around, with both sophomore Gabbe Cadoux and junior Jamie Lockwood splitting time. Although Cadoux has received the majority of the starts, the Ellicott City, Md., product was chased from net the last time out. In her place, Lockwood impressed, racking up six saves, including a couple in the final minutes to keep the score close.

Unfortunately for Duke’s netminders, they will have to face one of the most explosive offensive attacks in the nation. With four players racking up at least 47 points this season, the Tar Heels boast the 14th-most prolific offense in the nation, averaging more than 15 goals a game.

The Blue Devils will have to figure out how to contain All-American Marie McCool, who can affect the game in a variety of ways. As North Carolina’s best offensive threat with 44 goals this season, the senior midfielder can break open games. Perhaps even more importantly, McCool is the Tar Heels’ primary option on the draw, which will be a battle between two of the best players in the nation on the draw with McCool facing off against junior attack Olivia Jenner.

Despite McCool and the rest of her squad’s talent, Kimel is just trying to focus on her own team in what promises to be a season-defining stretch.

“We’ve got to worry about us, take care of business and not think about the what-ifs...there’s so much that has to still happen to shake out,” Kimel said. “We’ve got to put our best foot forward against UNC and realize that they’re still a really good team. They’ve got a really tough offense.”