Duke women's soccer: Blue Devils playing close to home
CARY, N.C. – Pressure? What pressure?
Duke fans, friends and family will be out in force for Friday’s Women’s College Cup semifinal matchup against Florida State. That much is obvious for a team playing so close to home. The support is nice, but for some, it could also add a certain pressure.
For some, but not these young women.
“I don’t really know if it makes it necessarily easier or harder,” said EJ Proctor, the Blue Devils’ sophomore goalkeeper. “The final four for any sport is obviously such a huge achievement and so exciting in itself, but it adds a lot to the emotional part of it, just knowing that so many people that we care about can come and see us play.”
Not only is the team in general playing for a national championship in what amounts to a home game, five of its members really are home.
Proctor and defender Mary Love Taylor both live in Wilson, just 45-50 minutes away. Defender Morgan Reid is from right here in Cary, while midfielder and defender Christina Gibbons and midfielder Kat McDonald both hail from nearby Raleigh. The relationships don’t end with just geography.
Gibbons and Reid have played together on one team or another since … check this out … their U6 days. Proctor and Taylor played together at Fike High School. All of them played for the same club team. Turns out, they know each other.
“Christina is my best friend and has been for years,” Proctor said. “Then Morgan’s my roommate. We’re really good friends as well. Knowing each other’s strengths, we know that no matter what, we’ll have each other’s backs. Morgan and Christina have a lot of familiarity with each other on the field, which I think is really obvious since they’ve been teammates the longest. It just makes it easier on the field, I think, to know what they’ll do next. I think that’s something that’s special.”
Reid attended dinners leading up to the Women’s College Cup as a girl, and the memory stuck with her. Now, she’s attended one as a player herself.
She lives just two miles from WakeMed Soccer Park. She and Gibbons played for a high school state championship on a field right next to the stadium where they’ll be contending for a national crown.
They’ve won all kinds of championships together over the years, their first coming at the age of just eight or so. They even played middle-school basketball together, for crying out loud.
“I’m not sure I would say I know what she thinks, but I definitely know where she’s going to move on the field a lot better than I know other players, just because we do have that chemistry of playing together so long,” Reid admitted. “There’s definitely a lot of chemistry on and off the field. When something’s not going right, I definitely turn to her to get some reassurance.”
If Reid lives but a couple of miles from WakeMed, then Gibbons is all but a foreigner at around four-and-a-half miles out. She was known to ride her bicycle to training here this summer for a training program with the Carolina RailHawks.
“I don’t think (playing so close to home) changes the amount of pressure for me,” Gibbons said. “It’s more an excitement that everyone I’m close to, all my good friend and all my family get to be there to watch. I wouldn’t really say that it’s pressure. It’s just something that I’m really, really excited about.”
Like the rest of her teammates, McDonald is looking forward to the experience of playing in front of so many familiar faces. And if there’s pressure in that, she’s looking forward to it.
“I think it does add pressure, of course, because there’s going to be up to 10,000 people there,” said McDonald, a true freshman. “But I think a lot of our team live for that pressure. I know that I feed off of that pressure. That’s something that I think we’re going to do really well with. I think it’s going to be great for us to look into the stands and see so many people wearing Duke blue, and so many people we care about.”
Taylor has but one goal for the weekend. It’s quite simple, actually.
“I just want to go back to Duke a national champion,” she said.
And then there was this.
“We know each other better and know how each other play,” said Taylor, another freshman. “It just helps add to our synchronicity on the field.”
Yep. It’s a word. Synchronicity. Look it up.