Coming off of its best offensive performance of the season, Duke travels to Chapel Hill for a rivalry match against the nation’s top-ranked team.
Hoping to continue what has evolved into a four-game win—and shutout—streak, No. 4 Duke is facing perhaps its toughest test of the season in a road match against No. 1 North Carolina Friday at 7 p.m at UNC Soccer and Lacrosse Stadium. The Tar Heels have allowed just two total goals in their six matches, a testament to their strong team defensive play and goalkeeping of junior Claudia Dickey.
However, Duke has proved to be one of the hardest tests for those undefeated Tar Heels so far this year, with the Blue Devils striking 11 shots, including four on goal, in a competitive 2-0 loss.
“We were really as good as they were from 18 to 18. We had some phenomenal opportunities to score, and we just didn’t finish them well,” Duke head coach Robbie Church said. “I thought they were better in the boxes—in the offensive box and the defensive box—so we have to clean that up for sure. We have to be better in both of those areas.”
Having already played against North Carolina (6-0) this season and reviewed film, Church added that he’s confident in his team’s ability to match up with the Tar Heels, and believes that “it is time for us to really be tested.”
In its last match at Syracuse, Duke (5-1-2) dismantled the Orange defense with a boosted attacking front, which tacked on two goals in the opening 20 minutes. Before that Sunday morning contest, the Blue Devils had only scored two first-half goals all season, so the aggressiveness out of the gate was a much-needed change for the team.
One of the driving forces of the offensive breakthrough was redshirt senior Mia Gyau’s move up from defense to a midfield wing, with Gyau notching two assists in the 4-0 win Sunday. Despite the success with that specific change, Church maintained that the team’s lineup remains dynamic.
“Every game is different, and every game calls for something different,” Church said, noting that based on how the game evolves, Duke may operate with either three or four back.
Duke will need its offense to shine against the staunch North Carolina defense, which ranks first in the ACC in goals allowed per game. The Blue Devils simply cannot afford to fall behind on the attack, and must be able to convert their opportunities in order to celebrate on the bus back to Durham.
For the entirety of the team’s current win streak, however, the high-powered offense that emerged Sunday was mostly un-needed, with Duke goalkeepers Ruthie Jones and Brooke Heinsohn creating a formidable pair between the goalposts. Jones has appeared in seven games while holding opponents to a mere 0.43 goals per match. Heinsohn, who was coming off an injury and struggled in her lone start at Wake Forest in the season opener, picked things up in a scoreless second half against the Orange.
At this point of the season, the Blue Devils are locked in. At No. 4, Duke holds its highest regular-season spot in the United Soccer Coaches Poll since 2017. While Friday’s match doesn’t officially count as a conference matchup, a win would surely propel the Blue Devils higher, as would a victory next Thursday at No. 2 Florida State.
Church says the team is thrilled at the chance to match up against some of the top teams in the country, using this opportunity to answer the question, “Where are we as a program?”
“I’m excited about [the upcoming schedule],” Church said. “Our players are excited about it. I think it gives them an opportunity to really put our stamp on the college soccer world.”
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Micah Hurewitz is a Trinity senior and was previously a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.