After stumbling during its first two ACC showdowns, the No. 12 Virginia women's lacrosse team has the opportunity to regain its footing in the conference standings tomorrow during a clash with No. 6 Duke.
The Cavaliers (5-4, 0-2 ACC) will seek their first ACC victory in Durham after succumbing to rivals Maryland and North Carolina earlier this month. Virginia currently sits tied with Virginia Tech for fifth place in the six-team conference, which features five top-20 teams and just one unranked squad.
The Blue Devils (8-3, 2-0 ACC), on the other hand, look to protect their unblemished conference record in an effort to remain on the heels of bitter rival and league leader North Carolina. With a conference triumph coming at a premium for both squads, Virginia expects a hard-fought battle against its Tobacco Road rival, which coach Julie Myers pointed to as one of Virginia's toughest opponents to date.
"Duke has great players in pretty pivotal spots," Myers said. "They have a couple of great defenders, a really athletic and tough goalie, awesome middies and attackers that have really played with each other for so many years."
The Blue Devils enter the matchup touting a lethal combination of a potent offensive attack and a stingy back line. Duke's offense features eight players who have scored at least 11 goals this year, and as a team the Blue Devils have recorded at least 17 goals in each of four games this season.
On the other side of the field, meanwhile, the Blue Devils boast the nation's No. 12 scoring defense, which is allowing opponents to score only 8.64 goals per game. Senior goalkeeper Mollie Mackler has steadied the defensive unit, recording 79 saves in 11 starts between the pipes. The Tewaaraton National Player of the Year hopeful also sports a stellar .467 save percentage, making her No. 25 in the country.
"They're well-coached so they're not going to make many mistakes," Myers said. "They're going to make us earn everything we get."
As they attempt to penetrate Duke's hard-nosed backline, the Cavaliers will rely on the offensive contributions of senior attacker Josie Owen and freshman attacker Sloan Warren. The duo put up career nights and combined for 11 of Virginia's 13 goals Wednesday during the team's win against in-state rival James Madison. Owen found the back of the net six times while Warren contributed a personal-best five goals.
Warren has emerged this season as a crucial cog in Virginia's offensive machinery. Despite only posting one start in seven appearances for the blue and orange, the Philadelphia native currently ranks second on the team in scoring with 14 goals - 8 of which have come during the last two weeks of play. Warren also boasts the team's best shooting percentage among players who have taken at least 15 shot attempts.
Following Wednesday night's gem of a performance, the young attacker attributed her early career success to the guidance offered by the more seasoned members of the team.
"It's really awesome to come in and be accepted by a team who really supports you and to be able to contribute in whatever way you can," Warren said. "I wouldn't be able to contribute and to have the confidence that I've slowly gained without them... It's really having the support of the older players and having high ambitions [that allows for success]."
On defense, the Cavaliers will look for junior goalkeeper Kim Kolarik to continue her stellar play. The standout goalie prevented each of Virginia's last three opponents from reaching double-digits and recently earned ACC Player of the Week honors. By claiming the award, Kolarik became the first Cavalier since 2010 star Brittany Kalkstein to collect the ACC Player of the Week prize twice in a single season.
"Kim has been doing an awesome job," Warren said. "Overall, our defense has really carried us through to this point... I think that we're going to need them to keep it up and only step up more for the next game and the rest of the season"