In the rivalry like no other, women’s soccer will be the first fall 2020 team to represent Duke blue.
The seventh-ranked Blue Devils will face off against No. 1 North Carolina this Sunday at 3:30 p.m at Koskinen Stadium. The Tar Heels may be the top-ranked team in the nation, but in the Tobacco Road rivalry, nobody can ever be counted out.
“I think for every young lady that comes to our program, this is a game they look forward to—they want to be part of the Duke-Carolina rivalry,” Blue Devil head coach Robbie Church said. “If you’re a Duke athlete, you want to be a part of this. You can’t have fear of this game, you have to embrace it.”
His team is ready to do just that.
With junior defender Delaney Graham and senior midfielder Lily Nabet returning from injury and a variety of choices for players in the net, Church’s squad is ready to compete in what will likely be the quietest audience in Duke-North Carolina history.
After a record number of ties last year, Duke (1-0-2) has begun the 2020 season with two draws in its first three games. Since overtaking Wake Forest 4-3 in their season-opener, the Blue Devils have only scored a single goal in two contests played at their home field. Recently, the coaching staff has been avidly working to instill a sense of confidence and aggressiveness in their attacking players.
“What we’ve got to develop in [the offense] is a little bit more of a killer instinct in the final third attacking, whether that’s the pass or a dribble or just making sure the ball gets played through in the final third,” Church said.
If the Blue Devils can develop that sense of urgency pushing forward and take advantage of weaknesses in opponents’ defensive formations, they will be on their way to a very successful season.
Where Duke thrives, however, is its defense. In the Blue Devils’ rematch against Wake Forest, the Demon Deacons picked up the pace toward the end of regulation, drawing a penalty in the 89th minute. However, sophomore goalie Ruthie Jones made a tremendous save to avoid the devastating loss. In addition to Jones, veteran goalkeeper Brooke Heinsohn and junior Holly Stam give Church plenty of reliable options in the net.
Goalkeeper is not the only position where Duke has depth, though. For the first time in what seems like forever, the Blue Devils have a full healthy squad and have the ability to substitute players without a drop off in performance or energy. This may prove to be crucial when facing off against the Tar Heels (2-0-0) Sunday.
“What you know about UNC is that you have to compete the whole time,” Church said. “It doesn’t matter who they have out there wearing their jersey, they’re going to compete. They’re going to play hard for 90 minutes and we have to make sure that we do the same thing.”
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