Blue Devils Ready For Final Four

Duke Men's Soccer team is on their way to Carson, California to play in the College Cup but the attitude of the team is very even keel thanks to head coach John Rennie, the head coach in his 26th year of coaching the Blue Devils.

"We are not going to the Final Four, we didn't go to the Sweet 16 or the Elite Eight we are just going to California to play University of California Santa Barbara, that's all we are doing," said Rennie. "If we lose, our season is over, we can not play for the National Championship until the next round. If you focus on what is at stake you forget about what it takes to get there. We are not going anywhere except to play one more game."

Having taken other teams to the college cup, Rennie knows what it takes to be successful at the collegiate level. The fact that he sees many positives in this year's crop of players is comforting to many Blue devil faithful.

"This team, like the others I have taken are very well balanced, this team has the most balance in a team I have had since 1995-1996. We had a great group in 1999 when we were undefeated and we had the #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and we got upset in the second round. That team was not as balanced as this team. This is a better team."

Rennie starts five freshman but points to their experience in youth national soccer and club teams to assist them in not feeling overwhelmed by the national stage or constant attention and pressure.

"They are very physically and mentally tough kids. They know how good they are. That is why they have been able to do so well as freshman."

Rennie did not change his recruiting philosophy when he brought this class to Duke, he simply points out that they were ready to play at an elite level quicker than most.

"You look at the team in pre season and you see that the freshman are more ready than most, I look at how our freshman are adjusting. I have seen them play at the top of their game with their regional team, club team and high school team. I know what they look like when they are at the top of their game. How long it takes a freshman to get back to that level is the eternal question for a player making the jump to college soccer. Some players never get back to that point, these guys, all of them were doing what they wanted to do after they made the adjustment and they made it very quickly."

One of those freshmen earned ACC Rookie of the Year honors, something Michael Videira didn't expect:

"It will be real awesome to go back and watch the tape of us playing on ESPN" stated the bearded freshman who has let his facial hair grow along with several of his teammates for the NCAA Tournament. "When the NCAA Tournament started we stopped shaving, and it worked so we just figured we would keep it going."

Videira and his fellow freshman are faced with the balancing act of playing in the College Cup the same week they go through their first round of College level final exams, something they've never had to deal with.

"Right now there is a lot of pressure. I have a lot of exams and papers due, and then I'm trying to focus on the game as well. We want to get everything done before we leave so that we can give all our attention to the games and then finish things up when we return."

Another freshman, defender Zachary Pope speaks as though he's a mirror image of his head coach.

"All we have is Friday, we are going to a game in California to play UCSB, if we don't take care of business that day you can't even say National Championship. We have to take it one game at a time."

For Pope, attending Duke was the culmination of a life long dream.

"My older brother Patrick played soccer for Florida State, he is my role model. When he was in high school he came to soccer camp at Duke and I got to see the school then and I loved it. I did not have a second choice for college, Duke was always where I wanted to play."

Despite the distinct freshman flavour of this year's team, the rookies understand the goal is to give the senior class a farewell to remember.

"We wanted to give the seniors something special. They have not gone this far, none of us have. Everyone wanted it and that is what makes it special. We have been successful because we are all out here willing to die for each other", said Pope.

The lone senior starter for Duke, Goalkeeper Justin Trowbridge sees his role as captain something he shares with his two fellow captains, seniors Joe Kelly and Matt White.

"I try to set an example for the guys, I'm a Goalkeeper and a Goalkeeper has to be a leader anyway. Matt (White) and Joe (Kelly) do not start but they are tremendous leaders off the field." Head Coach Rennie echoes Trowbridges sentiments about the vital role Kelly and White have played, "They are happy with the way things are going, they have handled the situation perfectly and in a mature way, they want to win and be on a championship team. Their personal behavior has been positive the whole season despite not playing a lot. They have been remarkable."

Trowbridge has been terrific in goal for Duke all season but has stepped up his game even more in the NCAA Tournament by allowing only one goal in four games thus far. Trowbridge is quick to give credit to his defense for helping him tend the net so well.

"We led the ACC in goals against average so we haven't changed anything. We have been fortunate to shut teams out, we have gotten lucky at times, and that is important in the NCAA Tournament. We have been a good defensive team all year and I think we will continue to be."

Coach Rennie is also quick to point out that the defense has been tremendous in the post season.

"The defensive intensity we had at Virginia was the best we have had all season. We can not do any better than that. It is not the defenders or the goalkeeper, they can not do it if they are doing it alone. All over the field the defensive effort was terrific."

Duke and UCSB join Maryland and Indiana in the College Cup December 10, 2004. Duke is scheduled to play Friday at 10:30pm Eastern time in Carson California. The game will be broadcast on tape delay Saturday at 11pm Eastern time on ESPN2. The Championship game will be live on ESPN2 Sunday at 4pm Eastern time.

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