The Wake Forest Demon Deacons women’s soccer team (8-2-2, 2-2 ACC) got back on track this weekend, earning a 2-0 victory at Spry over a Syracuse team (8-4, 1-3 ACC) that had been giving some of the ACC’s best trouble. It was a critical victory for the Deacs as they badly needed a win following a flat performance against now No. 24 Virginia Tech that ended in a 2-0 loss at home. Now Wake carries some momentum, and they’ll need it tonight, as they go to Durham for their first matchup against a top 10 opponent of the season, taking on the No. 7 Duke Blue Devils (8-3, 3-1 ACC) at Koskinen Stadium. Following this monumental game for the Deacs, they’ll return to Spry on Sunday, hosting the Miami Hurricanes (3-5-2, 0-4 ACC) in another Sunday matinee. This week gives the Deacs an opportunity to earn a statement win and find their way back above .500 in the conference, likely propelling themselves back into one of those top six spots in the conference, and potentially into the Top 25 in the country once again. But before looking ahead to these two pivotal matchups, let’s look back at how the Deacs got their eighth win of the season.
Both teams were in need of a win this past Sunday. The Deacs had only picked up one win in their previous four games, as had the Orange, who are angling to leave the ACC’s basement this year after many years as the conference’s punching bag. The game had a cagey start, with both teams not really committing too many numbers forward. Syracuse have been a very solid defensive unit this season, having allowed more than one goal in a game only once this year. It showed, as they made things very hard on the Demon Deacons, who were trying to play a more positive style this game but were struggling with the Syracuse midfield. The Orange were very organized this half, but they had very little to offer going forward, as the Deacs were also able to stifle Syracuse counter attacks very early. The two teams combined for a paltry 6 shots, with the Deacs accounting for 5, none of which were very big opportunities to score. When the halftime buzzer sounded, the two teams were in a stalemate that seemed destined to end scoreless.
Wake head coach Tony da Luz made a change at halftime, however, switching from a 4-4-2 diamond formation back into a 4-3-3, which wound up working wonders for the Deacs in the second half. There was a near instant impact as well, as in the 55th minute, the Deacs found a goal to take the lead. Emily Morris would send the ball out wide to Allie Schmidt, who had all kinds of space in front of her. Schmidt would send it through to Liv Stowell, who was in on the goalkeeper, but had her shot saved by Shea Vanderbosch. The ball would deflect out to Emily Morris, though, who would send it into the back of the net, banking it off of a Syracuse defender on the way. It was Morris’s fourth of the season, putting her up into the joint team lead with Liv Stowell and Alex Wood. It was also a goal that forced Syracuse to open up and commit numbers forward, which allowed Wake some more space going forward. This led to the Deacs’ second goal of the game, which all but put it to bed. This time it was Giovanna DeMarco in the 64th minute with her third goal of the season, as she would finish off a gorgeous passing sequence between herself and Kristin Johnson with a lovely finish past Vanderbosch. ‘Cuse weren’t able to muster much in the remaining minutes of the game, which allowed the Deacs to collect their second conference win of the season and their eighth overall, as well as their eighth shutout.
After the game, Coach da Luz was pleased to have rebounded with a result against a Syracuse team that he heaped praise onto: “We learned a lot from Virginia Tech, and they taught us that you gotta show up and you gotta play hard. You have to be committed to tackles. I think we had a really good week of training between the two games. The last couple days of training were probably our best of the year. So, you know, that’s a sign that the team is committed to get back after it and realize that they have to get it done in the league. And so I love the response today. Syracuse is good. They’re a tough team. They’re so much improved from last year, and they’ve been giving everybody a hard time. 1-0 Duke, 1-0 UNC, and a 3-1 win against Miami. They’ve been really competitive in the league. So I’m really happy with these three points.”
He also commented on the team’s first half performance and his tactical shift at halftime: “I thought we were up and down the first half. We had some good periods where we kept the ball pretty well and then we just got out of rhythm, so we just switched to 4-3-3 in the second half. And then I thought we stretched them. I thought we created some good 1v1s out wide with Caiya [Hanks] and Liv [Stowell] and started stretching them and exposing them. So I think eventually we just kind of wore them down and then the gaps got bigger.”
I also was able to speak with Emily Morris, who for my money was the player of the game in this one, with a resilient performance that was rewarded with a goal. Morris spoke about the breakout season she’s having and her mentality in taking on such a big role: “ I think last year I had a tough year just trying to find minutes, but this year I’ve had to step up because of injuries. I got my chance and I think I’ve shown well and earned my spot now. So yeah, I think my mindset is just to work hard every day and play soccer.” Morris also spoke about her performance more generally: “I think overall as a team in the first half we were a little rough and sporadic, but I think once we found a rhythm and tried to keep the ball, I think we did better. Especially in the second half.” Finally, Morris, briefly, took me through the moment she scored her goal: “Honestly, I kind of blacked out in the moment. I kind of got lucky today and just found the ball at the PK spot, and just put it in.”
While this was a good result for the Deacs, you always have to move on quickly in the ACC. They’ll be back in action tonight at 7:00 in Durham, where they’ll take on their toughest test yet in the Duke Blue Devils. Duke has been a force this season, with an average margin of victory of 2.5 goals in their eight wins this year. While they have three losses, all three came to top five opponents, as the Blue Devils have lost to current No. 1 UCLA, No. 2 UVA, and No. 5 UNC (although that game did not count toward their ACC record). It’s another year where Duke will be hoping to bring home hardware, as they’ve still only picked up two ACC Regular Season crowns under the tutelage of Robbie Church. Church has turned the Duke program into a national powerhouse, accumulating a 280-138-60 record there, and the Blue Devils have only missed the NCAA Tournament twice in his previous 21 years in Durham. Duke has dominated Wake in the all time series, holding a 20-10-5 mark over the Demon Deacons. However, the last three games have gone 1-1-1, and the most recent of the three was a dramatic victory for the Deacs in the ACC Tournament, when they won 2-1 in Durham against the No. 2 ranked Blue Devils on a late own goal forced by Jenna Menta. This will be a third straight matchup where Duke is ranked in the top ten coming in, which gives the Deacs another huge opportunity for a statement win.
Wake will return home from this Tobacco Road matchup to another ACC game, as the Deacs will host the Miami Hurricanes on Sunday. Contrary to the Blue Devils, Miami may be one of the worst teams in Power 5 soccer over the last few years. They haven’t qualified for the NCAA Tournament in the last nine years, and have been mostly near the bottom of the ACC over that span. After the unsuccessful tenure of Mary-Frances Monroe from 2013-2017 in Coral Gables, the program has tried to turn the corner with the appointment of former George Washington head coach Sarah Barnes, but she has not been able to get the program any positive momentum, accumulating 19-46-8 record so far and a 6-34-2 record in conference. It’s been tough sledding for the Hurricanes this year as well, as they have now lost their last five games after a 3-0-2 start to the season. It’s not as if the Hurricanes are a walkover, however, as they hold a 1-0 victory over current No. 4 Alabama this season. They also gave the Deacs a serious scare last year, as a masterful game from Miami keeper Melissa Dagenais and a late goal from Emma Tucker forced overtime in Winston-Salem between a tournament bound Wake team and a Miami team that only had one win in conference to that point. A double overtime Sofia Rossi screamer earned the Deacs the three points, but if that game happened this year the two teams would have shared the spoils. This is a game the Deacs cannot afford to overlook, especially if they lose to Duke tonight.
Kickoff for tonight’s game against Duke is set for 7:00, while the game on Sunday in Winston-Salem is set for a 1:00 kick.