After easing into 2019 with a couple of slow starts offensively, the Blue Devils appear to have shaken off all the rust from the offseason in the course of their current three-game winning streak.
Now, after a week between games, Duke will have one more opportunity this weekend to tune itself up before ACC play begins in earnest next week.
The 11th-ranked Blue Devils will wrap up nonconference play Sunday at 6 p.m. at Koskinen Stadium against James Madison. Duke has won three in a row heading into this weekend’s contest and, more importantly, has begun to define an identify for itself after some tough challenges early in the season. Last weekend, the Blue Devils outscored their two opponents, UNLV and LSU, by a combined score of 9-0. Duke’s offense appeared lost against then-No. 2 North Carolina and No. 13 Georgetown back in August, but has finally clicked as the calendar turned to September.
“I’m really happy with our performances the last three to four games," head coach Robbie Church said. "I think our preparation has been really good. Coaches have done a really good job of prepping our kids, going to the video room and on the training pitch, and I think our kids have done a great job because you have to listen to our coaches to make some adjustments to how we were playing early in the year.I think our players have started to accept their roles a little bit more and started to grow into their roles. All four of our attacking personalities kind of came together the last couple of games, and it’s been nice to see.”
Those four attacking personalities—Ella Stevens, Mackenzie Pluck, Marykate McGuire and Tess Boade—have been a nightmare for opposing defenses. Stevens, a senior, has been a bright spot for the Blue Devils (4-1-1), who lost top scorer Kayla McCoy to graduation last year and came into this season looking for some experienced leadership on offense. The Grayson, Ga., native has done a great job filling McCoy’s shoes so far in 2019, tying a career-high with two goals and tacking on an assist in Duke’s 6-0 blowout of LSU last Sunday.
“Ella Stevens has always been a great player for us but there’s always been other people here—Imani Dorsey, Kayla McCoy. Now Ella is the senior and she is the experienced player on the field, and I think she has been playing like that the last four or five games and really stepped into that leadership role,” Church said. “She’s done a great job off the field and now on the field she’s really started doing a great job of being a leader and scoring some big goals for us.”
Stevens has been far from the only weapon for the Blue Devils on offense, as Pluck, McGuire and Boade have eight goals and 20 points between them on the season. Pluck picked up her first multi-goal game of her career this past weekend, and McGuire will carry a three-game scoring streak into Sunday’s contest against James Madison (2-5).
“The last few years we had that one really big goal scorer. Now, I’m not sure if we’re going to have somebody with that many goals but I think we’re going to have a lot of people with a lot of goals,” said Church. “Especially when the ACC starts after this game [against James Madison].”
Duke will need these four on Sunday. Although James Madison’s record wouldn’t suggest the team will be much of a test, the Dukes have competed with several ranked teams already this season. They began their season with a tough 2-1 loss to Georgetown and opened their game last week against then-No. 8 Penn State by scoring not even a minute into the game. Although they also ended up losing that contest to the Nittany Lions, they nevertheless are stronger than they might first appear.
“James Madison is a really tricky team. They’ve played a really good schedule, so they’re not scared to come to a place like Duke and play. Most people come in and they’re intimidated, and you have a leg up before the game starts,” Church said. “That’s not the case with James Madison. They’ve been to big places, so we’re going to have to be really ready to play.”
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