Robbie Church released the Blue Devils’ 2014 schedule on Tuesday, which includes matches against 12 squads who advanced to the NCAA Tournament last season and eight games against teams who ended the 2013 season ranked in the top-21 of the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) poll.DURHAM, N.C.- Duke women’s soccer head coach
“Well we’re very excited about the schedule for next season,” commented Church. “It’s a combination of a lot of teams that advanced to the 2013 NCAA Tournament and teams that were on the bubble of making the NCAAs. We think it’s a very challenging schedule and will be one that our student-athletes will really enjoy.”
The Blue Devils return seven starters from last season and 21 letterwinners from a 2013 team that recorded a 9-9-6 overall record and advanced to the NCAA Elite Eight for the third straight year and the fifth time in the past seven years.
Prior to opening the regular season, Duke will feature exhibition contests against South Carolina (Aug. 14) in Durham and traveling to UNC Wilmington (Aug. 16).
Duke kicks off the 2014 slate in the annual UNC Nike Classic in Chapel Hill against Ohio State Friday, Aug. 22, followed by Stanford on Aug. 24 to close the weekend. The Blue Devils will continue on the road at West Virginia on Friday, Aug. 29, before returning back to Durham.
In the home opener on Sunday, Aug. 31 at 6:00 p.m., Duke will welcome University of Alabama-Birmingham to Koskinen Stadium.
“The first part of the schedule will prepare us for conference play,” said Church. “We will play teams that play different styles and formations, while playing them at different locations. That is going to prepare us well to get ready for ACC action because we’re kind of unique this year where we start with three matches on the road.”
The Blue Devils will then host their annual Duke Nike Classic Sept. 5 & 7 with Penn State, Arkansas and North Carolina. The classic will open Friday with North Carolina versus Arkansas at 5:00 p.m., followed by Penn State at Duke. Sunday’s action will feature the Tar Heels versus the Nittany Lions and the Blue Devils against the Razorbacks at 12/2:30 p.m.
“Once again our Duke Nike Classic is one of the top women’s soccer tournaments in the country,” said Church. “You’ve got Penn State who is a national power year in and out, while obviously North Carolina is one of the top teams in the nation every year. Arkansas is coming off a fantastic year in 2013 where they really pushed us in the final 16. It’s going to be a great tournament for people in our area to come out and see some really quality soccer on both days.”
Duke will next take on Hofstra on the campus of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va., Sept. 12, before returning home to close non-conference action against Louisiana State Sunday, Sept. 14.
“We used to only play 10 ACC games and then with the expansion of Syracuse, Notre Dame, and Pittsburgh coming in we increased to 13 last year,” commented Church on the new ACC schedule format. “I’m very much a traditionalist and I love playing all the teams, but it was too grinding on our student-athletes. This year we’ve broken it up into pods and I think we’re in a very challenging group. We’ve got 10 very, very challenging matches and look forward to them. This is why you come to the ACC to play and this is why you coach in the ACC. It is the quality of games you have that will prepare us for the NCAA tournament.”
The team will then open ACC action with three straight road matches at Pittsburgh (Sept. 19), N.C. State (Sept. 25) and at Virginia Tech (Sept. 28). The Blue Devils will then host Louisville Oct. 4, before heading to Clemson Oct. 9.
Duke close the regular season with four consecutive home matches against Wake Forest (Oct. 12), North Carolina (Oct. 19), Virginia (Oct. 23) and Boston College (Oct. 26), while traveling to Florida State (Oct. 31) Halloween night.
The Blue Devils return seven starters in 2014, while welcoming in the No. 2 overall recruiting class in the nation. Returning starters include Kelly Cobb (7 goals, 17 points), Lizzy Raben (23 starts), Toni Payne (3 goals, 5 assists), Kara Wilson (13 starts), Christina Gibbons (24 starts), Meghan Thomas (13 starts) and Gilda Doria (returning from torn ACL).
“The student-athletes that have been here all of spring have done a fantastic job and I think it’s one of the best springs we’ve ever had,” said Church. We’re excited obviously to have the recruiting class to come join us in August. When we get everybody together and healthy, our coaching staff is very excited about the potential of this team. We look forward to navigate the schedule that we have, the tough non-ACC games and obviously trying to navigate the ACC. It’s going to be a really fun 2014 women’s soccer season.”