Considered dispassionately, Duke’s run to the final game of the NCAA women’s soccer tournament probably came a year ahead of schedule. That doesn’t take the sting out of a 1-0 loss in the championship match to Penn State, but it does put it into perspective.
Nobody expected a team that didn’t even make the NCAA tournament a year ago and finished eighth in the ACC this season to advance that far. But the pieces are there for Duke to stay among the sport’s elite.
The top two scorers for the Blue Devils were freshmen, Taylor Racioppi and Kayla McCoy. There was only one senior starter, holding midfielder Kara Wilson. Just one other senior, tri-captain Danielle Duhl, saw action during the College Cup. And Duke is apparently headed for another big recruiting haul.
“As I look at the stats and see how even the game was, we were right there,” Duke coach Robbie Church said. “We lose one starting senior and a lot of other seniors that did a great job with leadership. The groundwork is there to make a return; that’s our challenge now as we move forward.”
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The other takeaway from this year’s College Cup is the rising parity in women’s soccer. Since North Carolina won its 21st NCAA title in 2012, three programs – UCLA, Florida State and Penn State – have claimed their first soccer crowns. Sure, those three are among the sport’s heavyweights. But there are more challengers emerging. Rutgers made its first trip to the College Cup this year. Texas A&M came within one round of its second, and West Virginia was a round away from its first.
“Now as we move forward, this is the next stage,” Church said. “This is great for our sport. … It used to be maybe eight teams had a chance at a final four. Now there are maybe 18 or 20 teams that have a chance for a final four. Or a national championship.”
Women’s U-20 update: While the U.S. Women’s National Team plays Trinidad and Tobago on Thursday night in San Antonio as part of the Victory Tour celebrating its World Cup triumph last summer, qualifying is underway in Honduras for the 2016 U-20 Women’s World Cup. Like the senior national team, the U.S. U-20 side has a strong ACC presence.
Because of the conflict with the recently concluded NCAA tournament, only eight college players are on the U-20 roster. At the 2014 U-20 World Cup qualifier, 19 of the 20 U.S. players were collegians.
One of the eight collegians is UNC sophomore forward Jessie Scarpa, who had a hat trick and an assist in a 6-1 win Monday over Panama. She added a goal and an assist, and Duke commit Ella Stevens scored a goal in a 6-0 rout of Haiti on Wednesday to wrap up group play. UNC commit Emily Fox, who started all three matches at defender, had a goal in a 2-2 tie last Friday with Mexico.
UNC has two more future players on the team in midfielder Zoe Redei and defender Taylor Otto, while goalkeeper Brooke Heinsohn has verbally committed to Duke. Otto, a CASL club player from Apex, started against Haiti. Heinsohn, a 6-foot-1 goalkeeper, is the granddaughter of Boston Celtics Hall of Famer Tom Heinsohn.
The U.S. will play Honduras in Friday’s 6 p.m. semifinal (Fox Sports 2), with Canada and Mexico in the other bracket. The third-place match and final are set for Sunday. The top three teams qualify for the U-20 World Cup in Papua New Guinea, scheduled for Nov. 13-Dec. 3 – the same weeks as the 2016 NCAA tournament.
Quinn off to Brazil: Junior defender Rebecca Quinn of Duke was late arriving to last Thursday’s College Cup news conference at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary because she had to take a biology exam ahead of schedule. She is missing the exam period at Duke this week because she’s with the Canada National Team.
Quinn, from Toronto, is in Brazil for the International Tournament of Natal, which began Wednesday night when Canada played Mexico. Canada will play Trinidad and Tobago on Sunday and Brazil on Wednesday. The third-place and championship matches are Dec. 20.
A third-team all-region pick, Quinn scored three goals for Duke this season. She was the final cut from Canada’s World Cup roster last spring and is one of six college players on the Natal roster. Coach John Herdman is using the tournament to evaluate younger talent ahead of Olympic qualifying set for Dallas and Houston in February.
Men’s College Cup: No. 2 seed Clemson and No. 6 Syracuse will play each other in the semifinals of the men’s College Cup at 6 p.m. (EST) Friday in Kansas City, Kan., with No. 4 Akron and No. 8 Stanford meeting in the other semifinal at 8:30 p.m.
This is the 15th consecutive year and 39th overall that at least one ACC team has reached the College Cup, and the 11th time in the 57-year history of the event that two or more did so. ACC teams have won the NCAA title in seven of the past 10 years.
Clemson and Syracuse split road wins this season. Clemson won 1-0 at Syracuse during the regular season, but Syracuse scored a 2-0 victory at Clemson in the semifinals of the ACC tournament. The Orange, who finished only seventh in the ACC standings, went on to beat Wake Forest 1-0 in Winston-Salem for the ACC title.