The youthful blue machine of Duke women's soccer; Blue Devils advance to NCAA final 16 with 7 other ACC teams | Sports

The youthful blue machine of Duke women's soccer; Blue Devils advance to NCAA final 16 with 7 other ACC teams

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Kelly Cobb and Kaitlyn Kerr (in background) celebrate a goal earlier this season.
  • goduke.com
  • Kelly Cobb and Kaitlyn Kerr (in background) celebrate a goal earlier this season.
KOSKINEN STADIUM/ DURHAM—It was my first night catching the Duke women's soccer team. What took me so long? A well-organized, cool-headed squad that features a strong defense, deadly wing play and a slick customer in the playmaking role, this is probably the most aesthetically pleasing team I've seen in the area this year.

Duke women's soccer? Wait, isn't Anson Dorrance's UNC juggernaut the only game in town?

Not likely. Duke is ranked third in the country (but No. 1 on the RPI) and the holder of the top seed in its 16-team bracket. Last night, the Blue Devils notched a convincing 3-1 second-round victory over a decent Georgia Bulldogs team from Athens, Ga.

The 11 women who started last night for Duke had a total of 101 points between them (two points for a goal, one for an assist). Four players are responsible for 82 of them. And those four are comprised of three sophomores and a freshman.

Against the Bulldogs, those four players again rose to the occasion: A goal for sophomore Laura Weinberg (19 pts now), a goal for sophomore Kaitlyn Kerr (23 points); an assist for sophomore Mollie Pathman (18 pts); and an assist for freshman Kelly Cobb (28 pts).

Duke's third goal was its first of the game, an own goal by Georgia's Bailey Powell, who turned a dangerous cross from the right by Molly Lester, subbing for Weinberg late in the half, into her team's goal (it was harsh outcome for Powell, who otherwise was a strong presence for her team). Georgia's Nicole Locandro grabbed a late consolation goal for the visitors, unleashing a 20-yarder strike from the semicircle that seemed to catch newly substituted players and goalkeeper Tara Campbell off-guard.

What was so pleasurable about Duke was their utter confidence in their 4-3-3 formation. The solid back four held its line, calmly moving the ball through the middle, which in turn found outlets in a dangerous trio of attackers.

Georgia had a couple of dangerous weapons, including Locandro and especially sophomore Alexis Newfield, who started the game as an undersized, isolated striker up top. When the long balls forward weren't reaching Newfield, she began drifting into deeper positions in search of the ball. Her talent was obvious, but Duke's defenders denied her space for 90 minutes.

Newfield and her teammates could not mount credible threats against a Blue Devil back line that's anchored by the formidable Natasha Anasi (a sophomore, of course). This Texan won every 50/ 50 ball, calmly backpassed long balls or turned on them and starting a new attack. She made driving runs from the back, forcing Georgia's winded forwards to track her. She's an impressive player, and it was obvious why she was named the ACC's defender of the year.

Equally influential was Kerr, an attacking midfielder with unerring possession and distribution skills. Despite laboring with a bulky brace on her left knee, her box-to-box work rate was impressive. The wide wingers, Weinberg and Pathman, are a dangerous duo. Weinberg is the speedy one who either races down the right flank with the ball, or makes a far post run when Pathman is in possession on the left. Pathman, a Durham native, isn't fast, but her crossing from her powerful left leg is exquisite. Duke's second goal came from just such a play, a menacing cross from Pathman that Weinberg met at the far post with her head.

The freshman Cobb, from Chugiak, Alaska, leads the team with 28 points on 10 goals and eight assists, including last night's. She's a classic No. 9, less technically flashy but a strong hold-up target woman who also makes aggressive runs with the ball.

This is the Duke squad that will face Ohio State in the round of 16 at 1 p.m. Sunday at Koskinen Stadium. The Buckeyes were 2-1 victors over University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and enter the game with a record of 12 wins, eight losses and two draws.

NOTES:

Of the 16 teams still standing in the 64-team field, eight are ACC schools. A ninth, Miami, lost yesterday to Long Beach State. In addition to Duke, the ACC survivors are:

1. UNC (5-0 victors over Baylor)
2. Wake Forest (2-0 over Boston University)
3. Boston College (0-0 shootout over Cal)
4. Maryland (1-0 over Auburn)
5. Virginia (3-0 over Washington St.)
6. Virginia Tech (3-1 over Texas A&M)
7. Florida State (3-1 over Portland)

Clearly, the ACC is the most competitive league for college soccer, probably for men as well as women. And the best team on the women's side is Duke. It remains to be seen if this squad of youngsters—there are no senior starters—can take the title Dec. 4 in Kennesaw, Ga.

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