The seventh-ranked Blue Devils are coming off their biggest win of the season against No. 6 Clemson, a match that saw them score their first goal in three games.
But as Duke enters its final home game of the season against Virginia Tech Friday at 7 p.m. at Koskinen Stadium, it is essential the team continues to build off the momentum of its previous win.
However, it’s not just the Blue Devils that are looking to continue some recent momentum. Up to this point, the Hokies have had arguably the toughest schedule in women’s college soccer, matching up against No. 1 North Carolina, No. 2 Florida State and Clemson in addition to two games against No. 10 Virginia.
Virginia Tech lost all of those games. But in the Hokies' sixth match of the season against then-No. 14 Pittsburgh this past Sunday, they finally broke through with a 2-0 win.
“[Virginia Tech has] absolutely played the best schedule in the country right now,” Duke head coach Robbie Church said. “And they’re young. They start a number of freshmen. And I think they’ve learned. They won’t be scared of us. They’ve seen teams play the caliber that we’re capable of playing.”
For the Blue Devils (2-1-2, 1-1-2 in the ACC), the key to this matchup is actually playing the caliber of soccer that they are capable of, something they have struggled with, especially on the offensive side of the pitch, during this shortened season.
Duke's offensive struggles have not resulted from a lack of opportunities, though. Rather, the Blue Devils simply haven’t been able to finish the plays that have presented themselves. Going forward, finishing these plays will be all about patience and ball movement in what some may consider to be an unusual formation.
“Our ball movement is going to be the key,” Church said. “If we can keep the ball moving, sharing the ball would be good. But once we get in the final third, we have to be risk-takers. We have to be able to run it down, but we have to be able to not be scared of making mistakes, not be scared of losing the ball.
"We just have to be more aggressive with our runs in the box. And if it’s not on, let’s change our point of attack, and make the defense move. If we move the ball quickly and make them move, there will be little holes and seams and gaps that we can play in.”
Flashes of this have been present throughout Duke's matches so far this season. And if one group of players can’t get it done, Church has more depth to pull from than he has had in years past. In fact, it was the substitutes who made the difference against Clemson, with freshman Olivia Migli scoring what proved to be the game-winning goal and being recognized for it later in the week as the Duke Student-Athlete of the Week.
“When our first group is not playing well, we can bring people on and their job is not only to keep the game the same, but it’s to add to the game,” Church said. “It’s to make the game better.”
And if all else fails and the Blue Devils continue to struggle offensively, they can take solace in their defensive strength, with seniors Caitlin Cosme and Taylor Mitchell holding up the back line and sophomore Ruthie Jones continuing her great play in goal. And while Virginia Tech (1-5, 1-3) may have won its last game, don’t expect too much firepower from a team that has scored just three goals in six games this season and no goals in its last four matchups against Duke.
The Blue Devils’ schedule is as split as it can get, with their matchup against the Hokies marking the end of a five-game home stand before the beginning of a five-game stretch away from Durham to close out the regular season. In what could be the last game at Koskinen for some of the Duke seniors, they'll surely want to tally another win before hitting the road.
“When you get a great win, you don’t want to ever give it back," Church said. "You don’t want to have a great win against Clemson, a top-three team in the country, and then give it back with a loss against another team. We’re getting to a streak of teams that are probably not going to be ranked in the country, but we can’t lower our standard here. We have to play at the standard that we set the last two games. It’s a very high standard and it will win us a lot of matches if we stay at that standard. Our goal is making sure we don’t lower our standards.”
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