More Erwin Cup points are on the line tonight as Duke and UNC meet up at Fetzer field. I am incredibly excited for this match for a number of reasons. First, I’ve been working on a feature story about the two teams over the last month or so. I’ve gotten to know the coaches and a few of the players as they moved toward night’s rivalry game. Everyone’s been very nice, but it’s clear how much this means to both sides.
At stake for Duke
The Blue Devils are ranked 4th in the country, and are off to the best start in program history. Robbie Church, the head coach, has been trying to build a team like this since he took over in 2001. He’s been to the Elite 8 twice, but this is a team who could contend for a championship. They’re led by Tara Campbell, a standout junior goalkeeper, and Kelly Cobb, the freshman goal scorer whose status may be questionable tonight after she turned an ankle in practice Monday. All-time, Duke’s record against Carolina is 2-33-1. None of the current players have a victory against their rival. This would plant a flag in the ground and show the country that Duke soccer is a legitimate threat. A loss, on the other hand, would keep Duke in its place, in the shadow of the Tar Heels. It’s impossible to underestimate the importance of this game for the team, the program, and their hopes of an ACC and national championship.
At stake for UNC
Anson Dorrance, the legendary coach, is a master motivator. He has his girls believing that Duke has written them off, that nobody expects them to win, and that the reputation of Carolina soccer is on the line. Far from being a complacent top dog, the Tar Heels are arguably more angry and intense for this match than any other match of the season. Carolina experienced a short struggle earlier this season, but they’ve now won three matches in a row. Strikers Kealia Ohai and Courtney Jones are benefiting from a new system (4-2-3-1) Dorrance learned from the French national team, and their goal production has been revived during the winning streak. Carolina’s defense is vulnerable, but they believe they can score enough goals to keep Duke at bay. And as much as the Blue Devils want this victory for their program, Dorrance and the Tar Heels want to defend the Carolina name.
For both teams, this is the biggest game of the regular season, and possibly the biggest regular season game in years. It happens tonight, at 7pm, at Fetzer Field in Chapel Hill. I couldn’t be more excited.