Duke women’s soccer coach Robbie Church thought he would field a veteran team this season, which earned a preseason national ranking of No. 7 in the coaches’ poll.
But that veteran cast was whittled down by injuries even before the season got underway. And when Duke opens its ACC schedule Thursday, hosting Miami at 7 p.m. in Koskinen Stadium, his lineup remains a work in progress.
Church lost three players before preseason camp began. Senior Gilda Doria and redshirt junior Alex Straton suffered ACL injuries, and sophomore Cassie Pecht has a microfracture in her knee. All three will be redshirted. Church had held out hope that Pecht might be ready by midseason or later but said that her injury has not responded.
All three players would have been starters for the Blue Devils.
“Cassie Pecht was the national freshman of the year, and the other one, Gilda Doria, was the glue of our team, a three-year starter,” Church said Sunday following Duke’s 2-1 loss to third-ranked UCLA.
Pecht scored six goals and led the nation with 15 assists while switching between forward and midfielder last year. Doria added six goals and 11 assists. Their absence leaves a void in Duke’s attack, which in six matches has managed only five goals – and two of those were penalty kicks. Straton was ticketed to start at defender, where Duke lost three of four starters.
Compounding the problem, two more players got hurt during the Carolina Nike Classic two weekends ago and have been out of the lineup since. Junior defender Tabria Williford has a neck injury but could return in a week or so. Freshman midfielder Rebecca Quinn has plantar fasciitis, a foot injury that could keep her out for another four weeks.
“But it gives other people a chance to step up and play,” said Church, who has started four freshmen.
Church said he and his staff are contemplating some changes in the lineup. One might involve moving senior Mollie Pathman, who split time last year between forward and defender, into more of an attacking role. She can be an effective weapon on the flank, where her crosses and services could provide scoring opportunities for forwards Kelly Cobb, Kim DeCesare and Laura Weinberg. The key could be Williford’s return to health, which could free Pathman from backline duty.
One thing Church is sure of: “We’re running out of time – it’s ACC time,” he said.
Sense of urgency: If anybody is thinking that maybe Church’s take is just so much coachspeak, there’s a pretty good reason for his urgency. Just look at the latest NSCAA poll released Tuesday. ACC schools occupy five of the top eight spots in the coaches’ poll, led by North Carolina at No. 1 and Virginia at No. 2. Then there’s Florida State (4), Wake Forest (7) and Notre Dame (8).
Duke comes in at No. 15, with Maryland at No. 21.
The Soccer America poll has eight ACC teams, adding Virginia Tech at No. 22.
Drought over: Although junior defender Jordan McCrary of North Carolina has a reputation as an attacking back, he didn’t have a college goal to his credit until last week.
In the second half of a 4-0 win Sept. 2 over then-No. 12 Coastal Carolina, McCrary scored from 20 yards after a cross by teammate Tyler Engel was deflected out by the Coastal goalkeeper.
“That’s one thing (the coaches) want, for the defense to join the attack,” McCrary said. “Maybe it took three years, but I finally got one.”
In his UNC career, McCrary had taken 13 shots before finding the range against Coastal.
Cardiac Pack: The N.C. State men have been pushed to overtime in their last two matches but came through with victories. On both occasions, a transfer player scored the winning goal.
On Tuesday night at William and Mary, former UCLA midfielder Holden Fender, a sophomore, hit on a 28-yard free kick with 1:19 left in the second overtime to send the Pack to a 2-1 victory. Last Friday against visiting Pittsburgh, former Longwood forward Nick Surkamp, a redshirt junior, scored on a header off a corner kick in the fourth minute of overtime. It was the first goal for each player at State.
The William and Mary goal was the first allowed by N.C. State senior goalkeeper Fabian Otte this season, ending a streak of 249 scoreless minutes.
Looking ahead: Conference action will be in full swing this weekend. All three women’s teams open ACC play with their usual 7 p.m. Thursday to 1 p.m. Sunday pairings as UNC (6-0) visits Virginia Tech (5-0-1) and hosts Notre Dame; Duke (3-2-1) hosts Miami (5-0) and Florida State (5-0-1); and N.C. State (5-1) hosts Notre Dame (4-1) and travels to Pittsburgh (4-1-1).
In men’s games, No. 18 Maryland (1-2-1, 1-0) visits No. 2 UNC (2-0-1, 0-0-1), and Duke (2-1-1, 0-1) welcomes Virginia Tech (2-1, 1-0), both at 7 p.m. Friday.
At 7 p.m. Saturday, N.C. State (3-0, 1-0) entertains No. 20 Clemson (4-0, 1-0).