Duke still standing in NCAA Women’s Soccer Championship

Despite an eighth-place finish in the ACC regular-season standings a month ago, Duke finds itself one of the eight teams still standing in the NCAA Women’s Soccer Championship. The No. 3 seed Blue Devils will play at No. 1 Stanford at 10 p.m. Friday.

Duke (13-5-4) has fashioned its postseason run with an opportunistic offense and a smothering defense. Consider that over the last nine games – since a 4-2 loss to Virginia Tech on Oct. 4 – the Blue Devils have surrendered only two goals. The second came Sunday in a 2-1 victory at No. 2 seed Florida.

“The last couple of years we’ve given up too many goals,” Duke coach Robbie Church said. “You look at the teams in the final eight, they’ve given up 15 goals or less. If you’re going to play for championships, you’ve got to defend. I don’t care what sport it is.”

Duke has yielded 14 goals this season, which ranks a respectable fifth in the ACC, and sophomore goalkeeper EJ Proctor has posted a league-high 10 shutouts.

“One of the things I’m proud of is we’ve team-defended well this year,” Church said. “Our forwards have worked hard. They’ve sacrificed some of their attack abilities to defend. We do a good job of getting numbers back behind the ball. If we lose the ball, we press right away. And we’re hard to break down.”

The standout on defense has been junior Christina Gibbons, a first-team All-ACC selection from Cardinal Gibbons in Raleigh. Since sophomore center back Schuyler DeBree was lost two months ago with a torn ACL, Church has rotated five defenders on the back line, with Gibbons moving inside to team with Canada National Team member Rebecca Quinn. Sophomore Morgan Reid, another Cardinal Gibbons alum, and freshman Chelsea Burns start at the outside backs, but Gibbons can shift to an outside role when the situation dictates.

That was the case in Friday’s NCAA tournament win over Florida Gulf Coast. Burns left the game with an injury, and junior Lizzy Raben, who had been a starter for most of the season, came off the bench to take over in the center and push Gibbons outside.

Raben stayed in the starting lineup against Florida, and Gibbons was used to shadow Gators forward Savannah Jordan, who ranks second in the nation with 24 goals. Gibbons didn’t allow Jordan, her teammate on the U.S. U-23 National Team, to get off a shot until the 64th minute. Jordan finished with two shots and no points.

The Blue Devils will need another big defensive effort Friday night against Stanford (19-2-1), but a victory will reward them with a trip to WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary for the College Cup.

“It would be really neat to play in a final four at our place,” said Church, who took Duke to the 2011 NCAA final. He said a grueling ACC schedule has prepared the Blue Devils for tough road games.

“We won at (North) Carolina, we won at Florida, we tied Florida State at our place, and we played well at Virginia,” he said. “We’ve played well in the big games all year.”

Homecoming at UNC: It isn’t officially homecoming weekend at North Carolina, but several members of the Creighton team will acknowledge one when the 12th-seeded Blue Jays (18-3-0) take on the fifth-seeded Tar Heels (15-1-3) at 7 p.m. Saturday at UNC’s Fetzer Field.

Creighton head coach Elmar Bolowich ran the UNC program for 22 years (1989-2010), winning the 2001 NCAA championship. His assistant coach of nine years, Carlos Somoano, has been the UNC head coach for the past five years and won the 2011 NCAA title.

Creighton assistant Justin Hughes was a goalkeeper at UNC from 2003-06 before playing two years in MLS for Colorado. He joined Bolowich’s staff five years ago.

In addition, senior midfielders Fernando Castellanos and Mike Paye played for Somoano’s Chelsea U-18 team in the CASL soccer program. Castellanos attended Leesville Road High, while Paye is from Enloe High.

Somoano said it will be a bittersweet moment for him to coach against his former boss “because one of us is not going to win,” he said.

“The reason I’m a head coach at the University of North Carolina is he hired me. I owe him basically this opportunity. He introduced me to North Carolina, and I’ll always be thankful.”

Title march: Louisburg laid claim to the Division I junior college men’s championship Saturday by edging Tyler (Texas) 1-0 in double overtime at Martinsville, Va. It was the first national championship in any men’s sport for the Hurricanes (24-1).

Louisburg forward Max Blackmore, a sophomore from Guilford, England, scored in the 102nd minute, redirecting a cross by Jaric Spath from 8 yards. Blackmore was named the tournament MVP after scoring a goal in each of Louisburg’s four victories. He led the nation with 35 goals and 79 points.

There were a number of area players on the team, including: Nathan Feinstein of Cary, Jack Corkins of Durham, Teddy Pierce of Raleigh, Joseph Robbins of Wake Forest, Anthony Roque of Durham, and Robert Smith of Cary.