Wake Forest Demon Deacons women’s football recap: Duke recap and FSU preview

The Wake Forest Demon Deacons (15-4, 7-4 ACC) shocked the college football world on Sunday night in their first ACC tournament appearance since 2017, posting the Blue devils duke only their second home loss of the season to advance to the semi-finals of the ACC tournament in Cary tonight. This is the biggest win the program has won in some time, but the road doesn’t get any easier for the Deacs as they face the Florida State Seminoles, who were the undefeated No.1 team in the country until they lost to Duke and tied the No.1 UVA in their last two games of the regular season. It’s been an incredible race for Wake to get here, and there’s no reason it can’t continue.

Recap: Duke

I could run out of superlatives to describe this performance by the Deacs, as they traveled to Koskinen Stadium in Durham to take on the No.2 Duke Blue Devils (now No.6, 13-3-1, 7-3-1 ACC ) and came out with a 2-1 win. The Deacs matched Duke’s intensity and defended steadfastly throughout that game, frustrating a powerful attack from Duke. They controlled the midfielder in the first half, and although they fought against the tide for much of the second half, they defended valiantly, and when they finally conceded the team reacted in an incredible way. It was a mercurial performance from almost every player on the pitch for Wake, and Tony da Luz has to be thanked for his performance in coaching this game.
To start the first half, the Deacs came out in a different lineup, with Coach da Luz placing the Deacs in a 4-4-2 diamond instead of their typical 4-3-3. It worked to absolute perfection, as the Deacs controlled the midfield, moving the ball as they liked and also preventing the Blue Devils from playing center with the sheer volume of bodies in that part of the pitch. Their press was going home and Duke was having a hard time doing anything. Even when they entered Wake’s half of the field, Deacon’s defense pushed them back at every opportunity, and the Blue Devils didn’t even put the ball into the box. Wake would make that period of dominance count in the 29th minute, as Malaika Meena would find Nikayla Small on the left side of the box in a ton of space. Small would send the ball to Jenna Menta inside the six, who would push it into open goal to give Wake a deserved lead. They wore it in half-time, as they continued to contain Duke and did not remain completely dominant in the game, but firmly in control.

In the second half, Duke came out looking to get back into the game, putting pressure on Wake’s baseline, sending loads of players forward. However, Wake’s defense continued to fend off their attacks before they could even make their way into the box. The Deacs would weather the storm for the first 15 minutes, and the game would calm down for a while after that. However, as the game entered its final 20 minutes, Duke began to stage another assault on Wake’s defense, and the Deacs had no other answer than to retrieve the ball and clear it away. They had lost control of the game and would have to defend themselves for the rest. But that was an almost impossible request from a team, and Duke would take advantage of it when they finally got the chance. In the 84th minute, freshman sensation Michelle Cooper took the ball out from the left side of the pitch and beat two defenders to break away, and sent it to Olivia Migli at the far post. Migli wouldn’t be wrong, sending him back through the goal to tie the game. Wake responded positively and immediately, however, as Jenna Menta would end up with the ball on the right flank and cross it in the box shortly after kick-off. There were no Wake players in the area, but poor communication between goalie Ruthie Jones and defender Emily Royson would cause Royson to attempt to clear the ball and slice it into his own goal, giving the advantage back to the Deacs after just 20 seconds. The Deacs were on their way to see the rest of the game and, as the bells rang, Wake’s bench rushed onto the pitch, the coaches gathered in a group embrace and the traveling fans made their appreciation felt. The Deacs defeated the Blue Devils on the road and advanced to the ACC tournament.

As for the Player of the Match in this one, there’s a litany of Deacs to choose from. Ryanne Brown had an incredible defensive performance at right-back. Nikayla Small returned to the starting lineup and made her presence felt with an assist. Jenna Menta scored a goal and sent a cross that led to the second goal in what was another solid performance for her. But for me, the player of the match was center-back Zara Chavoshi. Chavoshi was utterly oblivious in this game, holding one of the nation’s top attacking players, Michelle Cooper, in check for 90 minutes, excluding her assist on goal. She not only won her duels, worked the ball well and stayed step by step with her striker, but she did so to the point that the Blue Devils couldn’t touch into Wake’s box, settling for weak long shots. Kaitlyn Parks was hardly disturbed by this. She was amazing and was one of the main reasons Wake won this game.

Overview: Florida State

The Deacs will move from one ranked No.2 team to another, as they face the No.2 Florida State Seminoles (14-1-2, 7-1-2 ACC) in Cary. FSU are one of the country’s truly elite teams and were undefeated until Duke handed them their first loss on October 24. However, they’ve struggled lately, albeit against some top-level contenders, having tied UNC and UVA in addition to losing to Duke in their last three games for a 0-1-2 mark over the course of. this period. Wake has the lead throughout the time series between the two teams, holding a 13-12-5 mark over the Noles, including wins in each of their last three clashes. However, FSU is a staggering 5-1 against the Deacs in the playoffs, with the Deacs’ only victory in the 2010 ACC quarterfinals by a score of 3-1 en route to an ACC Championship victory. If the Deacs are to achieve the same goal this season, they will have to cross the state of Florida once again.

Tactically, the Noles line up in 3-4-3 and love to have the ball. They use a fairly efficient back press and usually settle into an intermediate block when the back press does not arrive at home. They are a team that do well in tight spaces and are clinical in front of goal, and can punish you from a distance as well, as they have a few players who are good at scoring from a distance. Really, they’re a whole team and play in a patient style that can be totally neutralized by the mid-block that Wake has started using in big games or that can cause real problems for the Deacs if they’re able to stretch them. For Wake, the key in this one is to do the same thing they did against Duke: take the advantage in the first half and force the other team to continue the game in the second. If they can defend like they did against Duke, they have a very good chance of winning this game.

When it comes to players to watch, the one to consider for FSU is Beata Olsson. The center-forward has been outstanding this season, with 11 goals and 1 assist so far. She has good feet, runs good races, has an exceptional pace and, especially for a center forward, is an excellent finish. She is a player that Wake absolutely cannot lose around the penalty area with the danger she presents when she finds the ball in this part of the field. As for Wake, the player who will be the biggest key to Wake winning this game is Nikayla Small. Small has been the Deacs’ best player this season in midfield, and she will be tasked with turning defense into offense for Wake. She’s so strong on the ball, a great decision maker and has an incredible drive. All of these characteristics have made her indispensable, and she will have to be the best player she can be tonight in order to win the midfield battle against a strong FSU squad.

Kick-off at WakeMed Soccer Park tonight is set for 8:00 p.m., shortly after the conclusion of the ACC’s other semi-final, Clemson v UVA.

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