Young Duke players take on big role
‘If you keep working hard, you’ll get your moment’
KENNESAW, Ga. – The last time Duke was in College Cup, to most of them, cardinal was a crayon color. Sunday, it will be an opponent when it the Blue Devils face Stanford for the NCAA Women’s College Cup title.
“I was four,” Kaitlyn Kerr said, doing the math about Duke’s 1992 appearance. (That team defeated Hartford 1-0 in the semifinals before falling to North Carolina 9-1 in the finals under head coach Bill Hempen.) “I started playing at two. The first thing I did was kick a ball. I grew up going to the College Cups every year and now we’re here in the finals. This is a dream come true.
“What’s more amazing is over two weeks, I see Mia Hamm, my idol of all time. Brandy Chastain speaks at our banquet, and I meet with Julie Foudy in an interview. This literally has been a dream come true this year. I can’t get over it.”
All this and she’s only just a sophomore. In Duke’s 4-1 semifinal victory against Wake Forest, Kerr and Kim DeCesare each scored a goal and Mollie Pathman added two – all sophomores. So far playing on the game’s biggest stage hasn’t proven to be too big for the Blue Devils (22-3-1). On a campus where excellence is expected of its students, that mindset seemingly translates well to its athletics.
“I think going to a school like Duke prepares you for everything,” Kerr said. “I think he recruits great people before great soccer players. Honestly, it’s one of the most mature teams I have been on in my whole life. I don’t know if that has anything to do with it. But we have to balance such a hard work schedule in school, and have to come out here and practice every day and play in the best soccer league in the country. That’s a lot.”
But by the time its players get to Duke, they have already been in big matches. A lot of them. They are top recruits who have played together and against each other on national teams for years. Their games are already raised and it suits them playing a grueling Atlantic Coast Conference slate of games.
“These girls are winners,” Robbie Church, Duke’s head coach, said. “They’ve seen just about everything before they get to this level. That’s why they are not overwhelmed by it. This is one of the reasons why they come to play for us and at other schools in the ACC.”
The players will add it also does not hurt to have very supportive upperclassmen teammates. With everyone more than capable of playing at a high level, for seniors to give up their playing time to the kids on the team speaks volumes about who they are. They have pushed and encouraged their younger teammates and it has paid off handsomely.
“We have such leadership from our seniors,” DeCesare said. “And although not all of them may get on the field, we’ve learned so much from them and the upperclassmen. They’ve been unbelievable. That’s why we’ve done so well. They’ve set the example. Have been such role models. It is just unbelievable we’re doing so well as a young team.
“Since I’ve gotten here I’ve learned about hard work and chasing a dream. When I got here I had to work my way up. I learned from those who have been sitting the bench and have become starters. I learned from them that if you keep working hard, you’ll get your moment.”
DeCesare’s moment came when she came off the bench to score the first goal to send Duke on its way to the championship game. That, like anything else that has happened this season, surprises no one on this team. It is almost expected and they will keep riding this wave into the Stanford game.
“Again, it’s maturity, and we take everything in stride,” Kerr said. “We try to play each game like it’s our last one. I don’t know what it is, but I don’t think it’s a deficit to be young and hungry.”