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Duke women's soccer to play Wake Forest seeking first ACC victory

<p>Ella Stevens leadership will be a deciding factor in whether Duke's young offense can handle the tough ACC gauntlet.</p>

Ella Stevens leadership will be a deciding factor in whether Duke's young offense can handle the tough ACC gauntlet.

After a long offseason and successful non-conference slate, ACC women’s soccer has arrived. Now with one game under their belts, the Blue Devils are ready to face their second challenger of the conference season: Wake Forest. 

After a slow start to ACC play for Duke with a 1-1 tie against North Carolina State last Sunday, the 10th-ranked Blue Devils will be heading off to Winston-Salem, N.C. to take on the Demon Deacons in pursuit of their first conference win Thursday at Spry Stadium. Both teams are still in the process of shaking off the rust and building chemistry. 

“In ACC play, you got to move on and you got to move on fast,” Duke head coach Robbie Church said. “When you’re playing in the ACC and you’re playing on the road, you have to be the aggressive team. You have got to make a statement early in the match.”

Similar to Duke, Wake Forest has started the ACC season with a tie, but in its case at the hands of No. 1 Virginia. The Demon Deacons are looking very strong defensively, as they had to withstand 18 shots and eight shots on goal from the Cavaliers. Their backline was formidable, which may prove to be a problem for the Blue Devils, who struggled to penetrate N.C. State’s defense during their last action. 

After going scoreless for 86 minutes in Wake Forest’s last matchup, Madison Hammond finally gave her team the lead and what looked like a win, but the Cavaliers tied it up in the final minute of regulation, handing the Demon Deacons (5-2-2, 0-0-1 in the ACC) their third winless game in a row. While a tie is not the worst outcome a team of Wake Forest’s caliber could hope for against a No. 1 ranked team, the Demon Deacons will surely be hungry for a win against the Blue Devils.

Players to watch for Duke (5-1-2, 0-0-1 ACC) will be Mackenzie Pluck, who dominated in last week’s James Madison game, and Ella Stevens, who has been Duke’s leading scorer this season. The key for the Blue Devils will be starting the game aggressively and wearing down the Wake Forest defense.  

“We have to be very good in possession,” Church said. “That’s going to be a key. We have to be very sharp in their box. We’re going to have to create scoring opportunities. I feel very confident about that, but now we have to make sure we finish those scoring opportunities.”

The season is young, but the stakes are high as ever. With one tie in the books in ACC play and no wins, both the Blue Devils and Demon Deacons will be putting it all out on the field Thursday. 

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