In some ways, Duke's upcoming NCAA tournament semifinal game against North Carolina has been four years in the making.
Seven of Duke's eight seniors have started and played significant time, many of them since their freshman years. And they've done it by striking a business relationship that works for all of them, one based on their common love for lacrosse."They'll be the first to tell you -- sometimes you think about females, especially, classes being really tight and really close friends," head coach Kerstin Kimel said. And I don't think any of them would say that we're this really tight group of girlfriends. But they all get along, and they all respect each other, and that is how it has been from Day 1."
Four of the seniors -- Kerrin Maurer, Brigid Smith, Chelsea Landon and Taylor Trimble -- have been mainstays on Duke's attack for the better part of four years. A fifth, Katie Trees, has emerged as a consistent goal scorer this year, too, and, like Trimble, plays both ways in the midfield. Gabby Moise is a senior starter on defense. Erin Tenneson is one of two team captains, contributing off the bench, and Angel Thompson is a reserve goalkeeper.
"We all joke that we have such different personalities, and we all bring something different to the table," Trimble said. "Since our freshman year, we've all put lacrosse first, and I think that's a common thread that we all have. When it comes to getting it done on the field, our priorities are in line in that sense."
This is the seventh time Duke has advanced to an NCAA semifinal -- and its first such trip since 2011. Standing in the way of the Blue Devils and their first appearance in the national title game is a familiar foe in the Tar Heels. The two teams played on April 17, a 12-6 UNC victory.
When asked to describe the first meeting, Maurer said, "not good, to put it short. We made a lot of mistakes."
Offensively, the Blue Devils were frustrated with their high number of turnovers (13) and low conversion rate (18 shots turned into just six goals). Some of that stemmed from low-percentage shots that didn't force the Tar Heels defense or goalkeeper to work particularly hard to secure stops.
The defensive issues, though, concerned Kimel most.
"Particularly on the defensive side of the ball, it was the first game where we really did not play like we typically do, to the point where we were literally looking around like, 'What just happened?'" she said. "We played hesitant and tentative. And I think that game really affected us. It made us doubt ourselves and question ourselves, and we've had to work really hard from that game back in the middle of April until last weekend, which was the first time we felt like ourselves."
Duke's defense was dominant in last weekend's 7-3 win against Princeton, momentum the Blue Devils will attempt to carry into this meeting with the Tar Heels. And the Blue Devils are taking comfort in the fact that there is plenty of room to improve this time around against UNC. The seniors feel like their decision making on the field has improved since then -- the hope is that the results follow.
"We know we didn't give a good performance at first, and it's things that we can fix and do better," Trimble said. "That's why we are most looking forward to playing them on Friday."
This article was written by Laura Keeley from The News & Observer and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.