After moving to No. 1 in the nation three days ago, Duke headed into its ACC opener hoping to continue its winning ways, led by a vaunted defense that had yet to allow a goal through three games.
However, the Blue Devils ran into the highest-scoring team in the nation in No. 10 Virginia and were turned away 4-1 Friday at University Hall Turf Field in Charlottesville, Va.
Despite eight saves by goalkeeper Sammi Steele, the Cavalier offense was too potent, led by two-time Longstreth/National Field Hockey Coaches Association Player of the Year Tara Vittese. The senior scored the first goal 22:19 into the first half and sealed the outcome with the final goal with less than 12 minutes remaining.
Virginia (4-1, 1-0 in ACC), the defending ACC tournament champions, held a narrow 2-1 lead against Duke at halftime. In the past seven meetings between the two rivals, five had been decided by one goal, so it was a familiar position for both squads.
With three shots from the Blue Devils (3-1, 0-1) in the first six minutes of the second half, it looked as if they would not let their top ranking slip away easily.
However, the tides turned, and the Cavaliers dominated the next 11 minutes with six shots and five penalty corners. On the final penalty corner, freshman Rachel Robinson finally capitalized on the offensive onslaught with her first career goal, assisted by Anzel Viljoen at the 52:39 mark.
Instead of sitting back and defending a two-goal lead, Virginia continued to press forward and was rewarded with multiple scoring opportunities, ultimately putting the nail in the coffin on Duke’s hopes for a comeback victory.
In the six minutes following their third goal, the Cavaliers produced four more penalty corners and four shots before Vittese smashed a backhand just under the crossbar to follow her own shot after an Erin Shanahan penalty corner.
Vittese, a Cherry Hill, N.J., native, entered the game leading the nation in goals per game with an average of 3.0 through four contests. After an impressive 15-goal campaign last season, Vittese has almost matched her production already and sits at 14 goals and seven assists following Friday's game.
Penalty corners were key to Virginia’s production, with three goals directly following one. The team had 17 in total, compared to five for the Blue Devils. The Cavaliers entered the game leading the nation in goals, assists, points and penalty corners taken, averaging 11.0 per game in the final category. They also handily outshot Duke 29-14, further proving their offensive prowess.
The game started off with both teams moving the ball well, but unable to find the back of the cage. With Vittese’s first goal, however, the scoring opened up and the teams traded blows in the next seven minutes.
The Blue Devils pushed upfield and put two quick shots on Carrera Lucas, who finished the night with eight saves for Virginia. However, on the ensuing penalty corner taken by Margaux Paolino, Haley Schleicher found the back of the net to knot the score at one. The Cavaliers were quick to respond, regaining the lead less than two minutes later. Greta Ell found the back of the cage following a Robinson penalty corner and Izzy McDonough assist.
Duke will now have a quick turnaround in its tour of Virginia, facing No. 15 James Madison in Harrisonburg, Va., Sunday. Although the Dukes do not pose the same kind of offensive threat as the Cavaliers, the Blue Devils will need to find some scoring, averaging just 1.33 goals per game in their last three contests, despite putting up more than 16 shots per game.