GA grad getting her kicks at Duke

GA grad Mac Pluck is looking to build on a breakout campaign from her sophomore season. (Photo courtesy Duke Athletics)

Mac Pluck thrives through her creativity.

On the soccer pitch, the Duke junior is a true playmaker apt at hitting the right pass or finding the open teammate to create scoring opportunities. Away from the field, the Germantown Academy graduate and North Wales native funnels her creative side into art and putting vision into illustration.

As the Blue Devils prepare to start an unusual season next weekend, Pluck is ready to push her creative side to the next level.

“My favorite part about soccer is the creative nature,” Pluck said. “I think the reason why I wanted to play Division I is because they allow that to happen and as an attacking player, you can be creative in the final third and you can change games by being unpredictable.

“That’s why I love it, it’s like a show and you get to be the one to perform.”

Last season, Pluck authored a breakout campaign with Duke and finished her sophomore year tied for the team lead in points and assists after scoring eight goals and setting up six others. It was an impressive accomplishment, but not one that was all too surprising given Pluck’s career before arriving in Durham.

Pluck starred at the club level for FC Bucks and later Player Development Academy’s ECNL and ODP programs and had several appearances at the US Youth National level. At GA, she scored double-digit goals all four years, notching 23 goals and 14 assists as the Patriots won the PAISAA title in 2015.

The North Wales product tallied career-bests of 26 goals and 15 assists as a junior and put up 13 scores and eight helpers in an injury-filled senior season and left GA with 80 goals, 41 assists and three All-Inter-Ac selections. Pluck committed to Duke as the 21st ranked player and 9th ranked midfielder nationally in her class, but knew everyone on the Blue Devils roster was going to boast a resume similar to hers.

“One of the most challenging parts mentally is realizing you come in and won’t be a star, you have to earn your role on the team,” Pluck said. “It’s a constant challenge. Every year, you start over. You have new players come in and a new team every year so it’s important to establish a culture as a team so everyone can get to their highest potential.”

Pluck, who scored four goals and assisted two as a freshman, said her biggest improvement since leaving GA to the eve of her junior year at Duke has been on the mental side of the game. The forward/midfielder said it’s always possible to get better physically or technically but conquering the mental aspect of the game is what allows a player to unlock those skills in a game setting.

“When you’re a senior in high school going to be a freshman, you over-analyze everything and want to be the best you can be to the point where you over-think,” Pluck said. “I think now, I’m learning how not to do that, but also adapt, forgive-and-forget and move forward in the best way I can.”

There was no greater mental test than the one Pluck, her teammates and all college soccer players have been through since March. When the COVID-19 pandemic prompted colleges across the country to shut down and send students home, it left athletes on their own to maintain their training and growth,

Soccer programs saw their spring seasons screech to a halt and players didn’t have the opportunities to play over the summer, so they had to figure it out on their own. For Pluck, this meant getting creative in a new way.

“It was challenging and the spring was going to be huge for us as a team so when everything hit the fan, we had to adjust,” Pluck said. “Even missing the summer training was hard, because that’s how you develop and doing all the individual work was so different. You can see now things are coming back, but it took a lot longer than usual.”

Pluck built her isolation workouts around areas she hadn’t been able to put as much time into and structured in plenty of fitness and individual drills. At the same time, there’s a difference between running five miles a day and going 75 minutes in an ACC game or kicking a ball off a wall and trying to make a pass with a defender racing in.

“You need to have pressure and you need to have people challenging you to get better,” Pluck said. “Being motivated individually was the most challenging part of it.”

On top of creating her own drive and motivation to keep putting the work in as spring turned to summer and the first dominoes began to fall as NCAA programs and conferences began to postpone their fall sports, Pluck needed an outlet away from soccer. That led to a lifelong passion for art turning into a creative outlet.

Pluck has long admired the work ethic of Kobe Bryant and when the former Lakers star passed away in January, she made a portrait of the Lower Merion standout using the Procreate app. That led Pluck, who wears No. 24 like Bryant did in the latter half of his pro career, to start Scribble Bird, where she would create digital-based art through commissions.

“I loved art my whole life and I needed a side job during quarantine and I didn’t know what that could be,” Pluck said. “I wanted to start doing things that I loved so I created Scribble Bird as a random side job to maybe make some extra money and develop my skills as an artist and it developed into something really cool and I was able to connect with people at a time where there weren’t many ways of connection.”

Pluck went live in May, adding her teammates at Duke were extremely supportive and urged her to get it started and quickly found not only a deluge of commissions, but a chance to give back. In June, Pluck donated half her profits to the Starfinder Foundation, an organization in Philadelphia that aids young soccer players in underserved communities.

With an Instagram account @scribble_bird_co showcasing her work, the idea took off and by early July, Pluck had such an influx of requests she had to close commissions. A psychology major and visual studies minor at Duke, Pluck said the experience showed her the value of staying on top of orders and maintaining time management, especially with preseason for soccer about to start.

“Scribble Bird set me up into a lot of different outlets than to just be at home and train,” Pluck said. “I wanted to do something that wasn’t the norm. A lot of people are getting into digital art and I wanted to do something a little different in terms of bringing my physical art into a digital platform and when you do it with that process, it creates a different medium with the scribble and I love having that identity as an artist.”

Around the country, more and more programs and conferences decided to postpone fall sports into the spring, leading the NCAA to cancel fall championships at the Division I level. Despite that, the ACC decided to push on with a season and Duke returned to campus on July 21 before starting preseason on August 5.

ACC teams will play an 11-game fall slate, all against fellow conference foes, with eight counting toward ACC standings and the top eight teams advancing to the ACC tournament. Pluck, who has been back on campus for just over a month, said it’s completely unlike anything she’s been through before.

“It’s so weird but it’s also interesting, I can still go on campus because we train there and I have a couple hybrid classes but it feels empty,” Pluck said. “Usually, our cafeterias would be full and crazy and now you order online and pick it up. There’s a lot of pre-planning in everything you do and that’s the biggest adjustment, being aware of what you have to do, when you have to do it and how often you have to do it.”

Pluck said she’s thankful for the opportunity to be with her team and working for a fall season knowing so many student-athletes in all other sports are being left to wait and hope for a chance to play in the spring. She thinks it’s also led to extra motivation and all her teammates have been working even harder to make sure they make the most of the chance they’ve been given.

The NCAA made the unprecedented move of not charging fall athletes with a year of eligibility regardless of whether their team plays in the fall, the spring, both season or not at all.

“It’s definitely not the normal college experience and I think it’s more of a missing out piece for freshmen,” Pluck said. “We’ve accepted this year is different and we’ve put our priorities in line but that’s been hard. It’s hard not having the same social life and not being able to interact even with the other teams here. It’s getting better and we’re learning how to do it while following all the rules and making the most of what we can do.”

However the year plays out for the Blue Devils, Pluck knows that she’ll play a key role in their success offensively. As always, she’ll be looking to fill the role of creator but this year, that may take on a different appearance.

In soccer, creation can be the pass that leads to a goal or an individual setting it up for them to put a shot away in the back of the net. Pluck has worked to balance that and seek her shot as much as share them.

“One of my strengths is in assists and I do better when I work with others, but I’m really trying to be a little more selfish in the final third to create more scoring opportunities,” Pluck said. “We were so sick of tying games last year so we want to have more of an attacking mindset as a team and that requires people to be a bit more risky and if I can start to do that now, others will as well.

“Creating is the most important thing to do. The more you create, the more goals are going to come.”

On the pitch or off it, creativity flows through everything Pluck does. While soccer feeds the intensity and competitive side of her personality and art brings calm and relaxation without that pressure, they complement each other.

The more freedom Pluck has to create, the more she enjoys it and while this upcoming season is unlike any other, it’s also a blank slate for her to print on.

“Creating more is my goal this year,” Pluck said. “I want to be more of a clutch player and score in games where we need them. It also doesn’t me just scoring, it’s me setting up my teammates in the attack and allowing them to follow through and I’m excited we have a full team to do that.”

comments powered by Disqus