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No. 5 Duke women’s soccer answers The Four Questions in win against No. 10 Stanford

Michelle Cooper has scored five goals in her first five college games.
Michelle Cooper has scored five goals in her first five college games.

Why are these Blue Devils different from all other Blue Devils?

In all other seasons, they feasted on teams good and bad, and in this season, only good teams.

The 2021 Blue Devils have so far swept a non-conference slate that included then-No. 13 Arkansas and then-No. 19 Washington, preseason-No. 18 Vanderbilt and have now added No. 10 Stanford. Stanford, a giant of women’s soccer, who Duke had only beaten in 1996. Not only is this the fourth 5-0 start in team history (and first under head coach Robbie Church), but it’s the only time the Blue Devils have ever beaten four top-20 teams—let alone a top-10 Stanford—as part of that unbeaten opening.

“So this [win] is definitely my class's first big one, and this team's first big win,” graduate student Tess Boade said. “I think we've said since the first day of preseason that we're here to win a national championship, and I think finally people are starting to look over and see we've got 5-0 against top teams, not just bad teams out here. So this is, I think, a statement game, and we're ready for more. We're not done. This is the start of it.”

Why are these Blue Devils different from all other Blue Devils?

In all other seasons, they didn’t often score even once, and in this season, they score twice.

This is the fifth time Duke has scored multiple goals in their first five games in school history, and its third under Church. Through five games, the Blue Devils have netted 15 goals, their most since 2016 and second-most since 2012. Under Church’s tenure, Duke has reached 15 goals within its first five games six times; it’s taken eight or more games to reach 15 eight times. 

“I really enjoy playing with [Mackenzie Pluck]. Her and I actually work really well together, which is really nice,” said striker/winger Michelle Cooper after Duke’s win at Vanderbilt. “Both of our abilities to run in behind, our ability to be dynamic and we just read each other's cues really well and just understand our tendencies, which is super nice. And we're definitely going to take advantage of that for us this season.”

Why are these Blue Devils different from all other Blue Devils?

In all other seasons, they’ve scored smoothly or laboriously, and in this season, they only score smoothly.

When Cooper whacked a daisy-cutter to the near corner of the net in the 22nd minute, after a misplay by Stanford centre back Kennedy Wesley, she became the first Duke freshman to score five goals in their first five games. And each has been remarkable in its own right—frozen ropes from 20 yards out, touch shots from the goal area, fadeaway crossing strikes—all perfectly sleek. Centre forward/second striker Mackenzie Pluck has become a back line-beater off the ball, leading to highlights every time the centre backs are caught sleeping. Future NJ/NY Gotham FC enganche Tess Boade is one of the cleanest connectors in the conference, and Cooper and Pluck’s goal-scoring prowess has allowed her to play to her well-polished strengths.

Add the volant Delaney Graham at right wing back and full back-turned-winger-turned-wing back Olivia Migli rounding into form on the left—the sophomore was having her best game at her new position before suffering a rolled ankle late in the first half. And that’s an attack not simply capable of scoring, but of scoring with lethal intent.

“What's different, a little bit, is that we can defend and we're very a hard team to break down, but I think we have a better transition now,” said Church. “We're better in moments of springing players like Michelle Cooper, springing players like Mackenzie Pluck, springing players like Tess Boade. We got Delaney Graham, of course. So we can attack with three or four players on transition.”

Why are these Blue Devils different from all other Blue Devils?

In all other seasons, they may eat bitter losses, and in this season, they’ve eaten only historic wins.

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