There is a certain beauty to sports rivalries.
To an outsider they are trivial and unimportant, but to those involved, they are incredible, passionate affairs that cannot be replicated. Nowhere is this more true than Tobacco Road, home to the fabled UNC-Duke rivalry which, on Friday night, will gain a new wrinkle as two undefeated women's soccer teams with national championship ambitions go head-to-head.
The Tar Heels have experienced unprecedented dominance in the sport over the last 40 years. They aim to notch a win against Duke and extend their 43-3-2 all-time record against the Blue Devils. Duke will look to secure an upset and put itself in a solid position to compete for a conference championship.
Following their loss in the semifinals of the NCAA championship to eventual champions Santa Clara, the Tar Heels are on the path to redemption. As the No. 2 team in the country, UNC boasts a 7-0 record that includes a tense overtime win against No. 10 Stanford.
The team has been bolstered by a large infusion of first-year talent led by Ruby Grant, Emily Colton and Emily Murphy, as well as senior leadership headed by Rachael Dorwart and Rachel Jones.
But the team's offensive attack will be shorthanded due to an ankle injury sustained in practice by Murphy, the team's leader in points. It will be a true test of depth as they aim to maintain their offensive efficiency without Murphy.
Duke has been step-for-step with the Tar Heels this season, also unbeaten with a 6-0 record. The team possesses more experience than the Tar Heels with senior leadership from the likes of Mackenzie Pluck, Marykate McGuire and Tess Boade. The No. 4 Blue Devils are aiming for redemption themselves following a season that ended in a loss in penalty kicks to Florida State.
The two teams' similarities don't end there. Both teams possess staunch defenses — with neither giving up more than one goal in a game thus far — and have combined for six shutouts in 15 games played. They also both have extremely efficient offenses that have enabled them to run the score up on numerous opponents this season, which has resulted in a combined eight games scoring at least three goals.
The matchup will also pit two of the most experienced and regarded coaches in the sport against one another. The Tar Heels are led by Anson Dorrance — the only coach in UNC women's soccer history — who has guided the Tar Heels to 22 national championships and won 90 percent of the games he's coached. The Blue Devils will be led by Robbie Church, returning for his 21st season, who has led them to three final four appearances to go along with two conference regular-season championships.
Though the Tar Heels will come into the game as the favorites, they will face staunch opposition from a Duke squad that fell in two narrow losses to the Tar Heels last season and will be looking to get their revenge. It will serve as one of the Tar Heels' first big tests of the season and be a benchmark for their goal of a national championship. The matchup will also be a battle between the more experienced Duke roster against the younger core of UNC.
With the return of crowds to Dorrance Field, the Tar Heels will look to secure a decisive victory against their greatest rival in front of their fans and move one step closer to another ACC regular season championship. The match also affords the opportunity for one of the teams to write a new chapter in the rivalry and attempt to show their superiority on the field.