After two convincing routs to open the season, the Blue Devils showed they are for real against a ranked opponent at Koskinen Stadium Sunday afternoon before starting ACC play. 

Although No. 18 Duke gave up a four-goal lead to allow No. 9 Northwestern to get back into the game late, the Blue Devils ultimately finished strong to earn a big 9-8 win to cap a three-game homestand following an 18-8 victory Friday against Campbell.

Although it was explosive and aggressive, Duke’s offense was not perfect, turning over the ball 15 times throughout the matchup. But the Blue Devil defense came ready to play, holding one of the best offenses in college lacrosse to just two goals in the first half and eight goals for the game. Sophomore goalkeeper Gabbe Cadoux anchored Duke’s defensive stand, notching 10 saves, four of them coming in the crucial last four minutes of the game with the Blue Devils clinging to a slim lead.

“It was a really back-and-forth game, both teams had great potential and I think the last five minutes I was just focused. There was huge focus from our team on both sides,” Cadoux said. “I was trying not to think about, ‘Oh, this could go in,’ or, ‘Oh, what if something goes wrong,’ because that’s how mistakes are made. We just played how we knew how to play.”

The Wildcats (3-1) looked to take control to begin the game, with senior Sheila Nesselbush scoring the first goal of the game in less than two minutes off a Blue Devil turnover. Duke quickly regained momentum, however, only allowing one more Northwestern goal for the remainder of the first half.

In that half, Duke (3-0) appeared to be the superior team, winning seven straight draws to begin the game thanks to junior Olivia Jenner. Jenner’s dominance at the draw allowed Duke’s offense time to work and adjust its attack throughout the game, and gave the team’s defense rest and energy to get stops when needed. The attacker also finished with a goal and an assist to help put the Blue Devils over the top. 

After playing a near-perfect half, Duke found in trouble, allowing Northwestern to overcome a 6-2 deficit led by leading scorer Selena Lasota, who finished with a hat trick. The Wildcats held Duke scoreless for 13 minutes, which contributed to their 4-0 run. A careless turnover by the Blue Devils led to an easy goal for Northwestern to tie it up at seven apiece. 

“I think the problem for us is that we weren’t finishing on our shots. I thought we were creating the looks that we wanted but we weren’t shooting well,” Duke head coach Kerstin Kimel said. “We shot 9-of-20, and that’s not good enough.”

But senior Grace Fallon scored to put Duke back in front for good with less than 10 minutes to play, and Cadoux’s performance near the end of the game ignited her teammates, who collectively forced 18 Northwestern turnovers. In particular, freshman Natalie Kahn—who earned her first start of her career—shut down Northwestern’s second-leading scorer senior Danita Stroup, holding her scoreless on only two shots.

“Our team overall just played great team defense today,” Kimel said. “To hold a team like that to eight goals is really a great feat for a group that’s relatively new and really young.”

Top recruit Charlotte North starred again for the Blue Devils, completing her third hat trick in as many games to start her college career. North scored her team’s final goal to go up by two with less than three minutes left to play.

“[North’s] really talented and I think that she loves the game. She’s by far our most passionate player,” Kimel said. “Those situations are the situations that Charlotte North wants to be in.”

The Blue Devils will travel to Blacksburg, Va. to play their first ACC game of the season against Virginia Tech Saturday at 3 p.m.