Duke is set for its fourth top-25 and third top-10 matchup of the season when it visits No. 7 Virginia Saturday in Charlottesville at 1 p.m. at Klockner Stadium.
After beating the Cavaliers twice in 2016, the 12th-ranked Blue Devils have lost to them each of the past two years—they will look to change that and ride their high-octane offense, the eighth highest-scoring unit in the country, to a victory. Duke's attack is led by sophomore superstar Charlotte North, who is second in the nation with 45 goals.
North recently became the fastest to 100 career goals in program history, doing it in only 26 games. But often overlooked in the face of her offensive dominance is everything else that she brings to the team.
“I tell people she’s like our Zion—she brings a passion every single day to practice and is so excited when we’re doing well,” head coach Kerstin Kimel said. "She is so passionate about the game and excited, and when she scores, our team scores, when anybody does stuff well, she is the biggest person celebrating."
Virginia (8-3, 0-3 in the ACC) will be looking for redemption after its last conference game, a 10-9 loss against then-No. 19 Notre Dame by a single goal, and the Blue Devils will also hope to be sharper despite their 17-8 victory against Davidson Monday after going 1-for-11 on free-position shots in the first half. For Duke (7-2, 2-0) to secure its first top-10 win since 2016, it will have to be fundamentally sound and finish its opportunities.
“We’re trying to focus on our execution for offense and playing better cohesive fundamental team defense,” Kimel said. “We’ve been good [on free-position opportunities] and we’re pretty strategic off the eight-meter opportunities, but it’s the kind of thing you have to make sure you practice every week, every couple of days, so that you stay sharp and on top of your game.”
One fundamental that the Blue Devils haven't had trouble with all season is the draw control. They control the draw 67.4 percent of the time, the second-highest rate in the country, led by senior Olivia Jenner. Duke will look to continue its dominance against a team that’s ranked 42nd and controls the draw 52.3 percent of the time.
The Blue Devil defense will also have to step up against an experienced trio of offensive playmakers in Sammy Mueller, Avery Shoemaker and Maggie Jackson, each of whom has around 40 points on the season. The trio has helped the Cavaliers take care of all of their nonconference competition, though Virginia is still looking for its first ACC win.
“They are really kind of a veteran group, those three kids. And they look for each other and they work for each other, they try to set each other up,” Kimel said. “For us, it’s more going to be a matter of making sure we have our matchups where we want them and that we’re switching on the picks they’re trying to set to free each other up.”
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