After dispatching the University of Tennessee in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament, the Miami University soccer team will take on the third seed and No. 15 Duke University Blue Devils. Miami will have to give its best effort this season, as it faces a team that lost the national championship just one season ago.
Duke has a major experience advantage, having returned every player from the 2011 run. Miami will also be making an adjustment in this game; playing a team that is just as offensively explosive is itself. Duke is ranked second nationally in scoring offense, averaging 2.90 goals a game.
“I talked to our players after the Tennessee game and one thing they told me they got out of the game is that they shouldn’t have been so nervous,” Head Coach Bobby Kramig said. “I hope that’s true moving forward. I understand being from the MAC that it can be intimidating going up against schools from the SEC or ACC, but we need to focus on what we do best.”
Senior captain Jess Kodiak has marveled at the cohesiveness of the team, being so young and playing at a consistently high level all season long. Tennessee tested the RedHawks on what is the biggest stage of the season. Facing the Blue Devils, the ‘Hawks will have to rely on their wealth of youth to pull out a victory against such a high-powered opponent.
“Our work ethic every day at practice is one of our biggest strengths,” freshman forward Haley Walter said. “We always come out as hard as we can and build off each other. I think that is what makes us so confident as a team. We know that if someone is having a rough day on the field, one of the players will be there to pick them up, and that definitely translates on the game field.”
Kramig has touted his team’s defense as the biggest factor in the success of this season. Though it is often times overshadowed by Miami’s scoring prowess, the defense played big in pressure situations all season long and against Tennessee. They will need to play their best game.
Duke enters this round after a 6-0 offensive explosion against Loyola University of Maryland in the opening round. The Blue Devils have scored as many as eight goals in a game this season. They enter play vs. Miami with 58 goals scored; one fewer than the RedHawks.
One potential challenge will be stopping Duke’s standout junior midfielder Kaitlyn Kerr, who recorded a hat trick against Loyola and has scored nine NCAA Tournament goals in her time at Duke. Kerr is also third on her team in goals scored this season.
“[The] defense will have to play a near perfect game,” Kramig said. “Duke presents a number of challenges for us defensively. I think we’ll be ready for the challenges. Our team got pounded by Tennessee and still found a way to grind out a win. We’re not the same young, inexperienced tournament team anymore. We’ve had a game to get our feet wet, and now we’ve got to play our best soccer.”
Though defense is being stressed, Kramig wants his team to be better offensively as well. Kramig says he feels the team needs to connect on more passes and play better in space against Duke.
“One thing the team has to realize is that we have to adapt with each game,” Kramig said. “Our speed is a strength, but Duke is fast too, especially playing in the ACC. I hope our players understand that the strengths we used to our advantage all season long may not always be there. The gap in talent gets smaller and smaller with each round in this tournament.”
Sophomore midfielder Kelsey Dinges says she is relying on the resiliency of the Miami squad to play into its favor.
“The team never quits,” Dinges said. “We could have given up against Tennessee, but we kept fighting and came out on top. I know going up against Duke can be intimidating, but focusing on us, and playing the whole game is what we need to do to win.”
Game time is set at 4 p.m. from Charlottesville, Va. at the University of Virginia. The winner of Miami-Duke will play the winner of Virginia-Rutgers University.