Following a dominant victory against one of the nation’s strongest programs, the Blue Devils had every reason to be confident heading into Sunday morning’s clash with Northwestern. 

But the Wildcats provided a scare, forcing Duke to withstand six second-half corner attempts after a rebound goal put the Blue Devils in front early. Northwestern’s upset bid ultimately fell short, though it was fresh on head coach Pam Bustin’s mind after the game. 

After capably dispatching No. 6 Maryland Friday night, No. 2 Duke narrowly escaped a second-half barrage from the No. 14 Wildcats at Spooky Nook Sports in Lancaster, Pa., to preserve another shutout and guarantee the Blue Devils’ third consecutive perfect weekend at the Big Ten/ACC Cup. Duke leaned heavily on the play of redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Sammi Steele, who turned away five second-half Northwestern shots after she was required to make just three total saves in the season’s first two games. 

“We did a decent job managing in the first half, but we didn’t really get into our own rhythm as much as we wanted,” Bustin told GoDuke.com. “We addressed it at halftime but it still kind of stung us in the second half, and Northwestern started gaining more confidence and building their momentum. We managed it and we came away with the win, but it is a great lesson for our team and one at this stage of the season that we are really going to take to heart so that we can work to make ourselves better.”

Duke (3-0) was firing on all cylinders Friday night against the Terrapins, outshooting an overwhelmed Maryland team by 20-3 and earning eight corners. That narrative failed to repeat itself in the early going against Northwestern (2-3), as the Blue Devils and Wildcats battled for possession without much offensive penetration. 

Duke’s breakthrough did occur early on, though, after junior Erin Scherrer slammed home a rebound goal in the 14th minute. Redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Annie Kalfas kicked away a ball sent on goal, only to leave a gift for Scherrer, whose second goal of the season proved to be decisive. 

Despite the 1-0 advantage, the Blue Devils continued to press forward offensively, outshooting Northwestern 10-4 in the opening half in addition to a 4-0 advantage on corners. 

The tides quickly turned after intermission, however. 

The Wildcats earned three quick corners to start the second half, though only one led to a shot on goal, which Steele confidently turned away. As Northwestern increased its offensive pressure, Duke lacked the same offensive dominance it displayed throughout the first five halves of the season, instead relying on Steele and a veteran defense led by seniors Alyssa Chillano and Sarah Furey to secure the win.  

“It was the first time we were really as challenged as we were defensively, especially in the second half with so many corners,” Bustin said. “I thought our corner unit did an exceptional job keeping their composure and reading the corners.”

For the first time this season, the Blue Devils were outshot in a half, though Duke still led the overall shot margin at the final whistle by 16-13. With one of the nation’s toughest schedules featuring a grueling ACC slate coming up, Sunday’s victory demonstrates that even the nation’s second-ranked team still has room for improvement. 

That consistency will be tested Friday when Duke travels to Charlottesville, Va., for its first conference tilt of the season against No. 10 Virginia before visiting No. 19 James Madison Sunday. The road trip will wrap up a string of five straight games away from home to start the season for the Blue Devils.

Despite starting the season with three shutouts—a first for the team since 1991—Bustin recognizes that the road will not get any easier.

“Every day is a new day and every day is a great battle, so how do we prepare to play the kind of hockey that Duke can play consistently?” Bustin said. “That is going to be our challenge, but our schedule provides us with opportunity to rise to the occasion because it is so tough.”