PHILADELPHIA—For the past 10 years, the Blue Devils have been one of the top programs in the nation, almost always ranked in the top 10 and contending to advance to the Final Four.
But if Saturday's loss was any indication, Duke might be heading toward its worst season in a long time without some serious adjustments.
The No. 19 Blue Devils suffered their fourth loss in five games in lopsided fashion, dropping a 16-6 ledger at No. 13 Pennsylvania Saturday afternoon at Franklin Field. Despite jumping out to a two-goal lead halfway through the first half and only trailing by a pair going into halftime, Duke was unable to withstand a 4-0 Quaker run to open the second half.
The game was decided in the last 15 minutes of the first half and the first 10 minutes of the second. Trailing 4-2, Pennsylvania went on an 8-0 burst by shutting out the Blue Devil offense in its zone scheme and getting 11 saves from goalkeeper Britt Brown. On the other end of the field, Caroline Cummings, Emily Rogers-Healion and Natalie Stefan combined for 13 goals to run away from a Duke team searching for a response.
"I’m not sure if I have the answer right now if I’m being truthful," Blue Devil head coach Kerstin Kimel said. "I think we have to do some serious evaluation on what we are running and make some changes schematically or personnel-wise."
Duke (5-4) started strong, grabbing a 3-1 lead after an early Pennsylvania goal. In the first 15 minutes, Kimel's team was active and hustling for 50-50 balls after errant passes and missed shots. Senior Hayley Shaffer put two balls past Brown, including one as the shot clock expired. After a Quaker goal cut the lead to one, the Blue Devils responded quickly following a draw control by Olivia Jenner when junior Grace Fallon found the back of the net to make it 4-2 with 17:42 left in the opening half.
But Duke's momentum disappeared after that.
The Blue Devils coughed up the ball nine times in the opening period, letting Pennsylvania (6-1) control possession and go into the break up 6-4. Alex Condon, one of four Quakers with hat tricks on the rainy afternoon, scored twice before the end of the period, then Cummings scored three times early in the second half to squash Duke's comeback hopes.
Once again, sloppy stick play and untimely turnovers plagued the Blue Devils, who committed many of their 19 giveaways during the game-defining stretch.
“I don’t think it’s any secret that we are struggling to execute against a zone defense," Kimel said. "There was nothing easy for us."
After freshman Catherine Cordrey momentarily stopped the bleeding with a free-position shot to make it 10-5 with plenty of time left, the home team responded with a 5-0 run to turn the top-20 matchup into a blowout of epic proportions.
On defense, Duke was facing an onslaught for much of the contest.
Starting goalkeeper Jamie Lockwood only made four saves and sat out for 15:14 in favor of rookie Gabbe Cadoux—who allowed four goals and made no saves—so Kimel was not too upset with the defense in front of her netminders.
“I think we did a really good job shutting off some of their players and some other kids we let them really have a day. I also think we had a tough day between the pipes," Kimel said. "[The defense] gave us possessions and gave us the opportunity to have the ball. We play a lot of defense so we will have some breakdowns.”
To Kimel's point, the Blue Devils also forced 19 turnovers and were just about even or ahead in every major statistical category except the most important one—converting possession into shots and goals.
After looking shell-shocked on the field for much of another road contest, Duke will look to right the ship and earn its first ACC win next weekend at Virginia. With just seven regular-season games left, the Blue Devils will likely face their first stretch as an unranked team in several years in the coming days and have plenty of work to do to get out of the conference cellar.
"We have not as a program been here in a long time and I have to figure out a way to get us back on track," Kimel said. "[Our] confidence isn’t in a great place right now. The bottom line is we have to play better.”