After a semifinal loss to UCLA last season in a penalty shootout, the Duke women’s soccer team is looking to go deep in the NCAA tournament this season and bring home a national championship.
The winningest senior class in Blue Devil history looks to continue its momentum as No. 4 Duke travels to Washington to play Lipscomb at 11 a.m. Friday at GW-Mount Vernon Athletic Complex. The Blue Devils are led by five players who earned All-ACC honors, including senior Taylor Racioppi and junior Ella Stevens who were tabbed to the conference's second team. Senior Kayla McCoy rounded out the honors, being named to the All-ACC first team for the second year in a row. It was a combination of McCoy and Stevens that propelled Duke into the Round of 32, as a Stevens assist yielded a McCoy header to help the Blue Devils overcome Rutgers 1-0.
“The game played out really like we thought it would. It had to be either a combination play or somebody with a touch of magic out there,” head coach Robbie Church said. “In this case, it was Ella with just a perfectly served ball and Kayla running in there and flicking it in. It was a beautiful goal. Absolutely beautiful goal.”
While the offensive effort gave Duke (15-3-2) the score, it was the defensive effort that won the game for the Blue Devils. Strong defense by freshman midfielder Sydney Simmons and two saves by redshirt sophomore Brooke Heinsohn established a dominant defensive front for Duke. It was also Simmons who set up the McCoy goal by drawing a Rutgers yellow card in the 78th minute.
With the two saves, Heinsohn posted her ninth shutout of the season and the first of her postseason career. With the shutout, she is now in fifth in the record books for shutouts in a season.
“We need her to really be solid back in the goal. We also will need her to make some good saves,” Church said. “You need a goalkeeper to bring one or two goals back in the NCAA tournament, especially as you start to go forward.... She’s had a really solid year—there have been some ups and downs like any first-year player. But I think she’s grown and she’s gotten better but she’s definitely playing at a high level right now.”
The Blue Devil defense was missing a link in the game against the Scarlet Knights, with Sophomore Karlie Paschall not on the bench. Paschall tore her Achilles' in practice during a non-contact activity and will be out for the rest of the season recovering.
Before her injury, Paschall led Duke in minutes played in addition to scoring four goals and tacking on five assists. She was the go-to for the Blue Devils from the corner and from set plays generally, converting all three of her penalty kick attempts this season. Paschall also had the game-winning goal at Louisville off a penalty kick.
“We’ve really had few injuries this year—we’ve been pretty healthy—but we’ve had two Achilles' tears,” Church said. “Caitlin Cosme stepped in and did a wonderful job for us…. She’s a really good defensive player—she’s tough, she’ll win balls in the air, she steps forward. She does not look like someone who has only played 20-some odd minutes. Going forward this weekend, she’s going to be a big piece of the puzzle.”
The Lady Bisons (15-4-2) are coming off their first NCAA victory in school history following an ASUN Championship. Last weekend in its first-round match, Lipscomb upset Mississippi State 1-0 in double overtime on the road to become the first team in school history to advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Lipscomb is led primarily by a defensive effort from goalkeeper Kate Mason and freshman defender Logan McFadden. Mason, who had seven saves in the upset victory, was named ASUN Goalkeeper of the Year and McFadden was tabbed ASUN Defensive Player of the Year.
Mason allowed just two goals in ASUN regular season play this season, shutting out six of eight conference opponents. She has amassed 95 saves along with nine shut-outs. McFadden has also been active on the offensive side, scoring four goals.
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On the offensive side, the Lady Bisons also feature the ASUN Player of the Year in junior Olivia Doak. Doak leads the team with nine goals, nine assists and 27 points, all of which rank in the top three of the conference.
“Our kids understand that they’re one of the last 32 teams left in this tournament. They’re not a power-five team with a big name but they’re still to be taken seriously,” Church said. “We have to go out there, work hard and play good soccer.”
If Duke beats Lipscomb, it will advance to the Sweet 16 and face the winner of the game between No. 1 Georgetown and Washington State Sunday at 11 a.m. A win would mark the Blue Devils’ 10th win in their last 11 NCAA Tournament matches and be Duke’s eighth straight victory in the Round of 32.
“This is the toughest weekend of the year. We haven’t played any Friday-Sunday games. We haven’t played any games this early,” Church said. “For us, it’s just about—we will have the ball more than Lipscomb but we are going to have to create opportunities. It’s about the final third. Can we execute enough in the final third—the final pass, the composure in the box, trying to place shots instead of just blasting shots and being able to find the corners. The wide players are going to be really important.”