(1) Virginia Tech vs Duke – Friday, 4:00 PM
1. How Will The Hokies Be Mentally After Their Near Brush With Elimination?
There’s probably two ways this can go. The glass half-full crowd probably believes that Virginia Tech is going to be hardened by their experience and that everybody who lifts the big trophy at the end of the season has to overcome some adversity along the way. The glass half-empty crowd might believe that Santa Clara taking Virginia Tech to the brink exposed some weaknesses in the Hokies and that small doubts may be creeping into the back of their minds at an inopportune time. It’s the reaction of the defense that is probably going to be most telling for the ACC Tournament finalists. Virginia Tech dodged some serious bullets that Santa Clara threw their way, and while Duke doesn’t pack quite that much firepower, they’ve still got enough to punish VT if the Hokie defense isn’t on song here. For most of the season, you’d say that the attack has enough to make up for some defensive misgivings, but…
2. Can Jazmine Reeves Reignite The Offense?
Everything was copacetic after the club’s shocking 4-2 win against Virginia in the ACC Tournament semi-final. Jazmine Reeves terrorized the Cavalier defense with a pair of goals, and the Hokies looked like a club with an offense to match its stifling defense. The Hokies have scored just four goals in their next four games though. Reeves has just one shot on goal in that span, and Tech fans have to be wondering if their offensive leader has hit a wall at an inopportune time. Tech didn’t get to this point by being one-dimensional though, and other Hokies have stepped up to carry the offensive load as their senior leader has struggled. Ashley Meier has flashed some of her immense potential, while the likes of Shannon Mayrose and Ashley Manning have been a nightmare for the tired legs of opponents to deal with from off the bench. Add in the more than capable Murielle Tiernan, and it’s easy to see that the Hokies are much more than a club dominated by Reeves. At the same time though, you get the sense that Reeves is still a huge difference maker and that a big showing on Friday would do wonders for their hopes of a College Cup appearance.
3. Will Duke Be Able To Improve On Their Regular Season Performance Against The Hokies?
Call it a rarity if you must, but in this battle between a #1 seed and an unseeded rival, the unseeded side did more than hold their own in the first meeting in late September in Durham. Duke had the better of the number of shots, shots on goal, and corner kicks in the match, showing that the 1-1 draw against the Hokies wasn’t the product of a fluke. Duke still found themselves behind going into the final seventeen minutes though, needing a smashing drive from range from Kelly Cobb to get back on level terms. Obviously it was an up and down regular season from the Blue Devils, but the draw against the Hokies was an early indicator as to the capabilities of the club if they got rolling. They certainly are rolling in the right direction now, but there’s also the X-Factor of this one being in Blacksburg, with the regular season encounter being in Durham. With some of the vulnerabilities VT showed last Sunday though, Duke will probably fancy their chances of going one better against the Hokies this Friday.
4. Can The Defense Buckle Down for Duke?
Those chances are going to take a big hit if the defense can’t tighten things up on Friday. After seemingly turning things around for a stretch in October, Duke’s promptly conceded in five of their last six, including in three of their four postseason games. That stretch also includes four games of multiple goals conceded, which is hardly a good omen against a Virginia Tech club replete with attacking weapons. The sheer inconsistency of the defense also might be a bit troubling, as the Blue Devils managed the clean sheet against the dangerous Florida attack on Friday but then blew two leads against Arkansas, a club with nowhere near as much firepower, just a few days later. Duke also escaped some particularly close shaves that day, but they can at least take heart in the knowledge that they did a fairly decent job against Friday’s opponents earlier in the year. The Blue Devils limited Tech to just four shots on goal in Durham, though some of VT’s wayward shooting also had something to do with that, as they did take ten more shots that didn’t end up on frame. Duke has firepower of their own, but they haven’t shown the consistency to make you feel good about their chances on the whole if the rearguard digs them into a hole at any stretch in this one.
5. What If It Goes To Penalties?
It’s safe to say that there aren’t any more secrets for Duke as far as penalty kicks are concerned. They’ve now prevailed twice on shootouts and used four of the same five shooters on both occasions. Mollie Pathman, Christina Gibbons, Laura Weinberg, and Kelly Cobb have all taken penalties in both shootout wins and made them both times. Kara Wilson came in for Katie Trees against Arkansas, with Wilson scoring, while Trees had missed, and it’s reasonable to expect the same side that was so successful against the Lady Razorbacks to feature again if this one comes down to spot kicks. Duke has also called upon backup goalkeeper Ali Kershner and been rewarded with some big saves to help power the Blue Devils along. They also aren’t going to be flying completely blind if it goes to penalties, as the Hokies themselves went to spot kicks against Santa Clara, sinking three of four to win after a fantastic effort by Dayle Colpitts in goal. Given Colpitts’ performance, the Hokies probably aren’t going to be cowed in the least if goes down to penalties.
I’ll be an optimist and say this one doesn’t go to penalties though. When all is said and done, I think this might be the most unpredictable of the four quarterfinals and the one with the best chance of an upset. With home advantage and a deeper side though, I think the Hokies will edge it.
Prediction – Virginia Tech 1 – 0 Duke