By Sarah Leggett, GoDuke the Magazine
All good things come to an end … or that’s what they tell you, right? For Duke women’s soccer, the end came sooner than they wanted.
Robbie Church’s 2017 squad put together an historic season that ranks as one of the best campaigns in Duke history, breaking numerous records along the way to reach the semifinals of the Women’s College Cup. But their trip to Orlando was cut short as the second-ranked UCLA Bruins advanced to the finals, outshooting Duke, 4-3, in penalty kicks after the contest remained scoreless for 110 minutes.
Duke finished its 2017 campaign with a 23-2-1 overall record, setting new Blue Devil marks for single-season victories (23), shutouts (18), wins over ranked teams (10), home victories (15), ACC wins (10) and ACC shutouts (8).
“The most important thing is that this team has worked so hard,” Church said. “They’ve had a common goal and that was to get to the College Cup and to play in a final four.”
For just the second time in school history, the Blue Devils entered the NCAA Tournament as one of the field’s four No. 1 seeds. The only other time this feat was accomplished was in 2011, when Duke made one of its prior three College Cup appearances in Duke history. It also marked the 23rd time in history that the Blue Devils made the Big Dance and the 14th time in the last 15 seasons.
The Blue Devils captured their third ACC regular season championship and first since 2011 with a perfect 10-0-0 record in conference play. (Virginia in 2013 was the last to conclude with a perfect ledger in the league.) It also marked the best conference record in school history.
“Since day one, they’ve had a mission and it was to go 10-0-0 in the toughest league in the country,” Church commented. “I’m just so happy for our players and our staff.”
Duke took home four of the five ACC individual awards and a league-high and program-best nine All-ACC honors. Church was named Coach of the Year, while Imani Dorsey was named Offensive Player of the Year, Schuyler DeBree garnered Defensive Player of the Year honors and Rebecca Quinn pulled in Midfielder of the Year.
Dorsey, DeBree and Quinn were also named All-ACC first team, along with Kayla McCoy and E.J. Proctor. Ella Stevens and Taylor Racioppi were tabbed All-ACC second team, while Ashton Miller earned third team recognition and Taylor Mitchell was named to the conference’s freshman team, setting yet another program best.
How’s that for an all-star squad?
Individually, the Blue Devils were paced by a number of those standouts throughout the season, including All-America seniors Dorsey, Quinn and DeBree.
Dorsey and McCoy each tallied a team-high 14 goals, pacing a Duke offense that stood second nationally in points with 171 and third with 60 goals. The Blue Devils tallied a 2.31 scoring average that was ninth nationally, while their 51 assists came in at sixth, led by Ella Stevens’ 11 assists that were sixth nationally. The Blue Devils’ offense finished the year leading the ACC in all four categories.
All-ACC first team senior keeper E.J. Proctor anchored one of the nation’s top defenses, helping Duke top the ACC in goals against average (0.38), shutout percentage (.692) and save percentage (.841) while finishing sixth, seventh and 34th in the nation, respectively.
Individually, Proctor capped one of the greatest careers by a keeper in school history, finishing with the school records for career shutouts (35) and goals against average (0.65) as well as single-season clean sheets (14) and GAA (0.35). Proctor also claimed third in the nation in shutouts and seventh in GAA for the 2017 campaign.
“The girl (Proctor) is first team All-ACC for a reason,” Church said. “She loves the big games and we know if we have a breakdown, the opposing team is going to have a hard time getting it past her.”
Grit … determination … drive … unselfishness … the list of words to describe the 2017 squad could go on and on, but one word depicts them perfectly — team.
“I’m so proud of this team and really that’s all that is important,” Dorsey said. “I love my teammates and the season we had has been … incredible.”
As with any team, it’s tough to see seniors leave a program. For a coach, you watch them grow from rookies to the stars they always have been.
“This is probably one of the most unique classes we’ve ever had,” Church said. “This class has been the glue for the program over the past three years. Every senior class, you want them to have the best year they can have and that’s exactly what this class has done. You look at them and see how much they’ve grown as young ladies over four years on and off the field and you’re so proud of what they’ve done in the classroom, on the soccer field and what they’ve done in the community. But you’re also sad because you know it’s coming to an end. There is no question in my mind that these young ladies are going to be really, really great leaders in whatever they choose.”
“Dr. Greg Dale (Duke Director of Sports Psychology & Leadership Program) always talks about how your teammates won’t necessarily remember your stats or the goals you score or how you were as a soccer player, but more about who you are as person, who you are off the field,” Dorsey said. “Being a leader by example off the field is something that I really hold dear and I really hope my teammates will remember that about me.”
One thing is for certain – this won’t be the last time you see or hear about DWS.
“Our older girls really did a great job of laying the foundation for our younger players,” Church said. “They got to see how they took care of themselves during recovery and how they prepared for games. When you get to the Final Four, there’s only one winner but I’m very happy this group finished in this setting and to play in this venue … to experience all of this.
“You keep knocking on the door and one day that door will open. We will be back soon.”