Playing lacrosse in the ACC always entails a grueling slate that features multiple top-10 matchups. This season has been no different, with the Blue Devils’ conference play already including three top-five matchups.
The fourth of these heavyweight battles will come Saturday at noon as No. 13 Duke looks to notch its first top-five ACC win since 2016 at Koskinen Stadium against rival No. 3 North Carolina. The Blue Devils will hope to get out to a strong start against the Tar Heels—a marked contrast to the 6-0 lead Duke allowed No. 4 Notre Dame in last week’s 15-7 loss—and convert on offensive possessions against a stout defense.
“I think for us, we know we are close. We know we have it in us. When we look back at those top-10 one-goal losses, we were in those games,” head coach Kerstin Kimel said. “We were either ahead in those games at points or battling down to the last minute. All it takes is one more play, one more stop, one more finish, one less turnover. I think that has been our message moving forward.”
Duke (9-6, 2-4 in the ACC) will look to get back to winning the draw, which it failed to do for the first time this season against the Fighting Irish. Controlling 65.1 percent of the draws—ranked second in the country—the Blue Devils will send out the Jenner sister duo to secure possessions for the team. However, once it gets the ball on the offensive side, Duke will need to be precise in its passing and shooting as it goes up against the sixth-best defense in the nation in scoring defense.
“I think it starts with the draw for us, it is something that is our thing. If I could pinpoint one thing where we were not ourselves last weekend it was certainly on the draw. That’s a huge priority for us moving forward in this game against UNC,” Kimel said.
Allowing just 7.9 goals-per-game, the North Carolina defense is anchored by sophomore Taylor Moreno between the pipes. The New York native averages 8.8 saves and is third in the country in save percentage at 55.4. The Blue Devils will look to move the ball around better against the Tar Heels (11-3, 4-2) and find better shots after last week’s performance, recording zero assists on seven made goals and scoring on just one of nine shot attempts in the second half.
“We need to do a good job of executing our sets and motions and plays. We need to be really mindful of the little things we need to do to win those 1v1 battles against the defenders,” Kimel said. “We are going to need to take good shots—their goalie is very good.”
Duke will also try to keep Charlotte North involved on the offense as defenses key onto her—face-guarding and denying the sophomore off the ball. Against Syracuse and Boston College, the Texas sensation was held to just one total goal. Although North has regained her rhythm, scoring 10 goals in the last two contests, the Blue Devils need to continue to give their most dynamic scorer space and open looks to jumpstart an occasionally stagnant offense.
“At this point in our season we have enough things in our repertoire that whether Charlotte is being shut-off or completely face guarded that she should be able to work through things within the plays we have,” Kimel said. “At this point in the season she is comfortable doing that. Notre Dame did not shut her off but we did not have the ball much for her to be able to do anything.”
If the Blue Devils can knock off their rivals, they will stop an eight-game skid against the Tar Heels and enter the ACC tournament in Chestnut, Mass., with some much-needed momentum.
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