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ChronSports' Top 10 of 2021 — No. 10: Duke men's soccer puts together stellar turnaround season

Sophomore Thorleifur Ulfarsson led the ACC with 15 goals this season.
Sophomore Thorleifur Ulfarsson led the ACC with 15 goals this season.

As 2021 comes to a close, The Chronicle's sports department takes a look back at the biggest stories of the year in Duke athletics. Each day, we will review a major game, event or storyline that helped shape the course of the year for the Blue Devils. 

Coming in at No. 10: Duke men's soccer bounces back from a subpar 2020 season to go to the ACC Championship game and third round of the NCAA tournament. For the full list, click here.

Duke had a suboptimal 2020 season despite bringing in one of the top recruiting classes. But, head coach John Kerr and the Blue Devils flipped the script in the 2021 season.

Kerr’s team went 4-10-3 in 2020, a record expected by no one. This could’ve been due to a number of reasons, including the pandemic impeding a smooth high school to college transition for its freshmen. But one thing we know for sure is that Duke did not play to its potential. This type of performance is uncharacteristic of Kerr’s program, prompting a desire for a successful 2021 season.

The Blue Devils met that goal this year, finishing with a 14-5-1 record. It’s obvious that Duke was more aggressive this season as it more than doubled its number of goals scored and racked up 134 more shots from last season. Sophomore forward Thorleifur Ulfarsson and sophomore midfielder Peter Stroud were the leading goal scorers this season with 15 and four respectively. 

Besides the much-improved statistics, the Blue Devils were able to achieve much more. Duke finished tied with Pittsburgh at the top of the table in the Coastal Region of the ACC with 16 points, especially impressive considering this region is home to the Panthers and Notre Dame—two stellar programs in the 2021 season. In addition, Duke was able to make it to the championship game of the ACC tournament where it fell to Notre Dame by two goals. The Blue Devils had to get through two more tough ACC opponents to get to that point: Wake Forest and Clemson. Last but not least, Kerr and the Blue Devils made it to the third round of the NCAA tournament as a No. 7-seed where they lost to a tough St. Louis program 4-3. 

It’s clear that Duke had a successful season as it had some rather impressive feats. But topping the list is how quickly Kerr and company were able to turn things around for the Blue Devils, a testament to the resilience and determination of the program. Coming off a season like this, it will be exciting to see what this team achieves next season.

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