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Duke women's soccer set to host Virginia Tech in yet another stacked ACC matchup

<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.

After a dramatic 3-2 victory against Wake Forest Thursday highlighted by a dazzling final-minute header by senior Kat McDonald, the Blue Devils will look to keep up their momentum with a matchup against Virginia Tech on the horizon.

No. 17 Duke will take on the Hokies Sunday at 1 p.m. at Koskinen Stadium. While the home team has already shifted focus toward its upcoming opponent, the Blue Devils' last victory was crucial for building confidence. Following an eight-game winning streak, Duke had gone two games without a win, with a loss to Virginia and a disappointing draw with N.C. State.

“They needed a win like this—this is one of the younger groups that we’ve had in the past few years,” Blue Devil head coach Robbie Church said. “So their heads were down a little bit, which is natural.”

In their match against Wake Forest, Duke (9-2-2, 3-1-1 in the ACC) raced out to a 2-0 first-half start with two goals from senior Kayla McCoy, but the Demon Deacons stormed back in the second half to tie things up before McDonald’s game-winner. Contributing to the Blue Devils' second-half adversity was sophomore defender Taylor Mitchell’s leg injury. The loss of Mitchell, a leader on the back line will leave a void that needs to be filled before Sunday. 

“Chelsea [Burns] is the only returning [defensive] player with experience,” Church said. “She hasn’t played a lot this year but I thought she did a great job stepping in.... We have a couple of options—just have to evaluate and see what we think the best option is.” 

With just two days between games, rest will be important for a Duke team that has had its last two games go down to the wire. The previous match against the Wolfpack went to double overtime, and McDonald acknowledged that fatigue was taking its toll. 

“A lot of people were tired, and there was a lot of pressure,” McDonald said. “I knew we probably weren’t going to be able to hold it out in double OT again, so it felt good to get the win.” 

Also coming off a two-day turnaround will be a Virginia Tech team that suffered a very different outcome in its match Thursday. The Hokies (7-3-3, 3-2-0) were shut out 3-0 by No. 11 Boston College, ending their three-game winning streak that included a victory against No. 6 Virginia. The Blue Devils can’t take scoring for granted, as Hokie goalkeeper and ACC Defensive Player of the Week Mandy McGlynn had held ACC opponents scoreless for more than 300 straight minutes before the Eagles' first goal while giving up 0.77 goals per game all season. 

Offensively, Virginia Tech is led by Karlie Johnson with five goals on the season as well as Kelsey Irwin and Jordan Hemmen with two apiece. As a team, the Hokies post a meager shot conversion percentage of only 7.1 percent for just 1.1 goals a game. Virginia Tech has also been shut out the past two years against Duke, but Church isn’t taking the game lightly. 

“You’re looking at 11 really good teams,” Church said, noting the importance of every ACC match. “They’re all very close, so every point is important.” 

The game will be a opportunity to extend the Blue Devils’ dominance at home this season. Duke will be celebrating 30 years of women’s soccer as it welcomes its alumni back to Durham this weekend. Following Sunday’s match, the Blue Devils will get a much-needed six days off before visiting Clemson on Oct. 13.