Duke coach Robbie Church’s sixth-ranked Blue Devils, picked to win the ACC women’s soccer championship by the league’s coaches for the first time in conference history, are scoring goals in bunches, 14 in three matches (plus six in two exhibition wins).
And two of Duke’s best offensive players, Mollie Pathman and Kelly Cobb, haven’t even joined the team yet because they are playing for the U.S. squad in the Under 20 Women’s World Cup in Japan. They might not be available until after the championship and third-place matches scheduled for Sept. 8.
When they return, Church will have to find a way to keep electrifying freshman Cassie Pecht in the lineup. Pecht, playing at forward and midfielder, has two goals and two assists already. She also got a goal and an assist in a 4-1 exhibition win over the University of Montreal.
“She’s been good for us wherever we put her,” Church said. “She’s quick and takes players on. No question, she’s one of our top 11. We just have to find a spot for her on the field.”
Cobb and Pathman are also forwards, but Pecht could move to the midfield, and Pathman could play in the back to utilize her skills going forward. She is playing defender for the U.S. team in Japan, and Duke’s defense might need shoring up after a 3-2 overtime loss to No. 22 Florida on Sunday.
World Cup update: Besides the two Blue Devils, four North Carolina players have been playing in the U20 Women’s World Cup, and another will be leaving for the U17 Women’s World Cup in Mexico next month.
The U.S. U20 team, which finished second in its pool to advance to a quarterfinal match Friday against North Korea, includes Crystal Dunn, Kealia Ohai and Bryane Heaberlin of No. 19 UNC. UNC freshman Katie Bowen was playing for New Zealand, which has been eliminated. A fifth Tar Heel, freshman Summer Green, missed last weekend’s two UNC games while practicing with the U.S. U17 team.
Walk-on defense: Three minutes into the Aug. 17 season opener at No. 20 Portland, North Carolina lost senior defender Megan Brigman for at least a month to a fracture in her right leg.
When the Tar Heels hosted Florida and Montreal a week later, Anson Dorrance, logging his 800th career match as the UNC women’s coach, inserted freshman walk-on Hannah Gardner of East Chapel Hill High at left back. That was fitting because sophomore walk-on Caitlin Ball, another ECHS grad, was at center back. The Tar Heels did not surrender a goal all weekend.
Gardner “didn’t even make the travel squad for Portland,” said Dorrance, who proclaimed East Chapel Hill “the gold mine of girls soccer in America.”
Said Gardner: “It’s not when I expected it to come, but I knew I’d get my time. It came earlier than I expected. I had some nerves – I was a little shaky at first. But it’s awesome to represent UNC and East.”
Looking ahead: There are no nationally ranked opponents on tap, but the ACC’s Triangle teams are all in action Friday and Sunday. The Duke and N.C. State men play Delaware and Santa Clara in the John Rennie Nike Classic at Duke, while No. 1 UNC hosts West Virginia and Boston University.
In women’s soccer, N.C. State hosts The Citadel and Elon; Duke travels to Los Angeles to take on Southern Cal and Washington State; and UNC gets Notre Dame and Connecticut in South Bend, Ind.