Area fans have eagerly anticipated a Duke-North Carolina meeting in a final four for years, but as it turns out it won’t be in basketball.
The third-seeded Blue Devils (16-4) and second-seeded Tar Heels (17-3) will play in the national semifinals of the NCAA women’s lacrosse tournament at 5 p.m. Friday in PPL Park in Chester, Pa., a Philadelphia suburb.
A third ACC team, fourth-seeded Syracuse (16-7), takes on top-seeded Maryland (19-1) at 7:30 p.m. The winners meet at 8:30 p.m. Sunday for the NCAA title.
UNC (17-3) won the regular-season meeting in Durham 12-6 on April 17 to preface what will be the 19th head-to-head meeting of the two schools in NCAA playoff history in any sport. The only NCAA tournament showdown in women’s lacrosse came in the 2005 quarterfinals, which Duke won 15-7 after the teams split decisions in the regular season and ACC tournament.
“That was 10 years ago,” Duke coach Kerstin Kimel said. “Ten years is a long time in athletics. A lot changes. Just the coaches haven’t changed,” referring to herself and UNC counterpart Jenny Levy.
“We played UNC back in 2005 in the quarterfinal game here to go to the final four. I think for us regular-season ACC games are really important. … This is even bigger than that. This is an opportunity to win a national championship.”
Rivals on the road
This won’t be the first meeting of the two schools in a final four, however. UNC hosted the 1992 women’s soccer final four and beat Duke in the title game, 9-1.
Will it seem strange to play a backyard rival 400 miles from the campuses that lie just eight miles apart?
Maybe, but the coaches aren’t worried about it.
“Any time you’ve got a Duke-Carolina game, it’s fun,” Levy said. “The rivalry is so deep-seated in the university community, its brings a whole ‘nother level of excitement to the competion. … We know it’s going to be a battle. With Duke-Carolina it rises just a little bit more.”
“I think there will be plenty of Duke and UNC fans there,” Kimel agreed. “I don’t think it will be quiet by any means. We’re excited to be in a big venue, in a big city.”
Both teams have a Philly representation on their roster. Duke features senior midfielder Taylor Trimble and sophomore defender-midfielder Kitty Morrissey, as well as Kimel.
UNC has six Pennsylvania players, including senior defender Margaret Corzel and sophomore defender Stephanie Lobb, who hail from the Philadelphia area.
“It is very strange to think about it,” Corzel said of playing Duke there. However, Corzel has fond memories of playing in a final four in front of the home folks.
“In 2013 we played at Villanova, which is right around the corner from where I lived,” she said of the Tar Heels’ title win over Maryland.
Trimble said she was trying to keep everything in perspective. “For me, I’m not letting the fact we’re in Philly take me out of my game,” she said.
In the seven team sports that have featured Duke-UNC head-to-head contests in NCAA tournament play – field hockey, men’s and women’s lacrosse, men’s and women’s soccer, and men’s and women’s tennis – UNC holds a slim 10-8 edge. However, in contests played outside the Triangle, Duke has a commanding 7-1 advantage, including 5-0 in lacrosse. The Duke men contributed heavily to that effort with a 4-0 dominance over the Tar Heels, although none of the meetings came in the final four.
The conventional wisdom from two coaches familiar with the Duke-UNC rivalry in their particular sports might come as a surprise.
Kimel said Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski met with her team Monday and provided a cautionary tale from his team’s pursuit of an NCAA championship in 1991.
At the Final Four in Indianapolis that year, Duke and UNC were in opposite brackets and could have met in the final, but UNC was upset by Kansas in the first semifinal. That was the game where Dean Smith was ejected.
“He said at this point in the season, Duke-Carolina can’t be the focus,” Kimel said of Krzyzewski. “You have to be the focus.”
“His biggest message was rationalization,” Trimble added. “If we beat them Friday ... not to be satisfied with the fact that we’ve gone farther than Carolina.”
Trimble said Krzyzewski didn’t want his players to relax their focus with Carolina gone. “He brought the guys in and said that doesn’t make it OK for us to now lose, just because Carolina had lost,” she recounted. “I think that really hit home for everyone.”
Basketball fans know that in the 1991 Final Four, Duke went on to upset previously undefeated UNLV and then beat Kansas for the first of Krzyzewski’s five NCAA championships.
Duke men’s lacrosse coach John Danowski, who owns three NCAA titles himself, including a quarterfinal win over UNC en route to his first one in 2010, said it’s easier to cope with the rivalry aspect of Duke-UNC because of the nature of his sport.
“Our sport is so small, you play everybody,” he said because of the internecine nature of the U.S. lacrosse community. “We say there are no rivalries in our sport because everyone is a rival. In the ACC the expectation is everyone will make the NCAA tournament. So you probably will see them again.”
Duke vs. UNC in NCAA tournaments
Sport; Year; Round ; Site; Result
Field hockey; 1992; 2nd; Chapel Hill; UNC 3, Duke 0
Field hockey; 2004; 2nd; Chapel Hill; Duke 2, UNC 1
Men’s lacrosse ; 1998; 1st; Amherst, Mass.; Duke 16, UNC 14
Men’s lacrosse; 2007; Quarterfinal; Annapolis, Md.; Duke 19, UNC 11
Men’s lacrosse; 2009; Quarterfinal; Annapolis, Md.; Duke 12, UNC 11
Men’s lacrosse; 2010; Quarterfinal; Princeton, N.J.; Duke 17, UNC 9
Women’s lacrosse; 2005; Quarterfinal; Durham; Duke 15, UNC 7
Men’s soccer; 1987; 1st; Durham; UNC 2, Duke 0
Men’s soccer; 1993; 1st; Chapel Hill; UNC 3, Duke 2
Women’s soccer; 1992; Final; Chapel Hill; UNC 9, Duke 1
Women’s soccer; 1994; Quarterfinal; Chapel Hill; UNC 3, Duke 1
Women’s soccer; 2001; 2nd; Chapel Hill; UNC 2, Duke 0
Men’s tennis; 2008; 2nd; Chapel Hill; UNC 4, Duke 2
Men’s tennis; 2010; 2nd; Durham; Duke 4, UNC 1
Women’s tennis; 2005; 2nd; Chapel Hill; UNC 4, Duke 0
Women’s tennis; 2006; 3rd; Palo Alto, Calif.; Duke 4, UNC 1
Women’s tennis; 2007; 2nd; Athens, Ga.; UNC 4, Duke 1
Women’s tennis; 2010; Quarterfinal; Athens, Ga.; UNC 4, Duke 3
NCAA Women’s Lacrosse
At PPL Park, Chester, Pa.
No. 3 Duke (16-4) vs. No. 2 UNC (17-3), 5p.m.
No. 4 Syracuse (16-7) vs. No. 1 Maryland (19-1), 7: 30 p.m.
Friday winners, 8:30 p.m.
Hold their own on draw controls.
Don’t get in an early hole.
Challenge the UNC attackers with defensive pressure.
Beat Duke’s defensive slides by moving the ball quickly.
Control possession by winning a majority of draw controls.
Avoid defensive fouls that give Duke free-position shots.