To win, or to go down in history.
That is the conundrum facing Duke women’s soccer on Thursday, when it travels to Tallahassee, Fla., to play Florida State to close out its regular season. The team can win, or it could tie, which as a result would set the school record for most ties in a single season (of course they could also lose, but who would try to lose?).
See, this has been a season for the Blue Devils in which their ties have become a running storyline and a haunting narrative. They tied their third overall game and at one point tied six times in an eight-game stretch, which included a streak of three straight ties. Perhaps it’s a bit inaccurate to insist, as forward Marykate McGuire has, that these stretches “show that… [they] can beat anybody in the country." At the very least, however, they’ve shown that they can’t be beaten by anybody (outside of an August defeat to North Carolina in Chapel Hill).
It is true that all the extra periods that the women have had to play have worn them down. They’ve played the equivalent of more than one-and-a-half games in extra time this season, which, as head coach Robbie Church has alluded to, has probably contributed to the fatigue and injuries the team has experienced in recent weeks. In Sunday's win over Syracuse, Ella Stevens was dealing with a sore back, according to Church, while starting defender Taylor Mitchell also had an injury scare.
Those extra periods have come during games that have actually mattered, though. For most of the year, the Blue Devils were in the thick of the race for home-field advantage in the ACC tournament. They’ve played standouts Mackenzie Pluck, Ella Stevens and Delaney Graham until their legs have literally given out. But now, all their ties have cost them points in the standings, and they would need both a win at Florida State and a very unlikely loss by Louisville to N.C. State on Thursday to have a chance at another game at Koskinen. Very unlikely.
So why bother? What’s the point of spending all your effort trying to win a game that doesn’t matter? That’d be like studying hard for an A in a class no employer will ever care about.
Why not leave a legacy instead?
If the 2019 Duke women’s soccer team truly wants to leave a legacy, there’s an easy way to do it: tie in Tallahassee. There’s nothing to gain by winning and many things to gain by tying.
Firstly, it'll create more opportunity for the Blue Devils to evaluate their roster. If they aren’t trying to win, they can get some much-needed rest for their stars and see how their bench players—especially their freshmen—are doing, with Coach Church unsure of who’s covering the extra “ten minutes… while we get some rest.” I’m sure they’d prefer to have Emmy Duerr and Remi Swartz playing more on Thursday than starting on Sunday because a regular starter got injured.
Maybe the team will play better after a tie, too! Duke is undefeated following ties this season, and after the last tie, Coach Church was described as being not-too-thrilled about it. For a team that had been described earlier this season as lacking a sense of urgency, lighting a fire within may spark some more scoring. That’s something the Blue Devils will need if they want to win the games that actually matter.
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