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Preview: UNC women's soccer prepares for top-five matchup against rival Duke

First-year defender Tessa Dellarose (34) looks for an open pass as she dribbles down the field. UNC won 2-0 against UNCW at home on Sunday, Aug. 21, 2022.

When the No. 1 North Carolina women's soccer team faces No. 2 Duke on Thursday in UNC's second consecutive top-five matchup, both rivalry history and revenge will be at stake.

Last season, a sold-out crowd witnessed No. 4 Duke upset the No. 2 Tar Heels on their home turf in Chapel Hill. The loss was North Carolina’s first in a regular season conference game since 2016 and its first at Dorrance Field. 

As the Tar Heels head to Durham, they will look to reclaim their ownership of the rivalry and add to their long-winded history over the Blue Devils. 

Duke will be heading into the match coming off a 3-1 victory over TCU on Sunday night. However, both teams will be looking for a marquee win to offset their recent common losses to No. 3 UCLA. The loss to UCLA was each team’s first of the season, as both UNC and Duke possess a 5-1 record heading into the matchup.

North Carolina defense has recorded four shutouts this season, but the unit will still be challenged following the season-ending injury to veteran defender Maycee Bell, who tore her meniscus in the season opener. First-year Kayleigh Herr left the UCLA matchup with a leg injury, so players like first-year Tessa Dellarose and senior Maggie Pierce will likely be the ones tasked with putting forth a strong defensive effort.

Junior Avery Patterson leads the Tar Heels in scoring this season, but first-year forward Tori DellaPeruta has shown promise on the attack. UNC also features Emily Murphy, a sophomore forward who led the team in assists and tied for second in goal-scoring as a first-year last season.

Duke’s national championship hopes were shattered in the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament in each of the past two seasons, so the Blue Devils are hot on their own quest for the crown. 

Duke’s offensive squad is spearheaded by young talent, including sophomore forward Michelle Cooper and first-year forward Kat Rader. However, the team is bolstered by a solid veteran core made up of junior midfielder Maggie Graham and senior midfielder Sophie Jones, as well as graduate Mackenzie Pluck, who co-leads the team in assists alongside Cooper and graduate Delaney Graham. 

The Blue Devils boast a versatile and experienced defense. Junior defender Katie Groff has already logged a goal and two assists this season, and Graham – who was one of 35 defenders named to the United Soccer Coaches’ Watch List – has three assists. 

The Blue Devils’ defense allowed just 12 goals last season – the fewest by an ACC team and eighth-fewest nationally – so the Tar Heels will need to keep the pressure high if they hope to find the net.

Following the losses to UCLA, this matchup will be a battle to likely secure the No. 2 spot in the national rankings. Neither team stands out as a clear favorite: both have the same record, have lost to the same team, and are equally hungry for a national title. 

Although UNC has claimed 21 of the 40 all-time national titles, it’s been a decade since the most recent one. The Tar Heels are not only looking to avenge last year’s loss to the Blue Devils, but also to establish a benchmark on their road to a potential national championship. Similarly, Duke is looking for a key rivalry win, as well as its own brand of revenge — redemption for its back-to-back quarterfinal losses in the last two NCAA tournaments.

Thursday’s game will present another high-stakes test for each team; with similar seasons so far and similar team makeup, it is bound to be a classic rivalry matchup.

 @dthsports |  

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