She came, she saw, she conquered.
Kim DeCesare put together a four-goal weekend to propel Duke to its fourth NCAA Tournament quarterfinal appearance in the last six years.
After routing Miami of Ohio 4-1 Friday afternoon, DeCesare and the third-seeded Blue Devils defeated second-seeded Virginia for the first time since 2008, winning the round of 16 matchup 3-1 at Klockner Stadium Sunday afternoon.
In the second round match against the RedHawks, DeCesare wasted no time seizing the lead for Duke. The redshirt junior scored twice in the first 13 minutes of play, one off her head and one off her foot.
“Kimmy has phenomenal touch around the [18-yard box],” head coach Robbie Church said. “She scores goals with her head. She scores goals with her feet. She’s just been a really, really big time player…. Every time we need a big goal or a big game, Kimmy is there to really give us that.”
DeCesare said the team had taken up the motto “Make our momentum” in the hopes of building off their previous games. And just as she did in the second round, DeCesare scored early again against the Cavaliers (18-5-1) Sunday, snapping Duke’s (15-5-2) four-game scoring drought against Virginia. The score was her team-leading sixth header goal on the season and gave the Blue Devils a 1-0 advantage.
Pushing for a second goal, Duke kept Cavalier goalkeeper Danielle DeLisle busy, posting six consecutive shots during the next 10 minutes, but could not find the finishing touch. Then, in the 38th minute, junior Mollie Pathman finally found the back net, scoring a one-timer off a cross from junior Kaitlynn Kerr for her first score of the season.
“It was huge to score the second one,” Church said. “That gave us belief. That gave us a little cushion…. There was no question that [Virginia was] going to come back at us.”
With a 2-0 advantage at the half, the Blue Devils faced the difficult task of keeping the nation’s fifth highest-scoring offense at bay to preserve the victory. Adding to the challenge, Duke center back Natasha Anasi had earned a yellow card in the first half.
After recording just three first-half shots, the Cavaliers came out firing in the second period.
“They smelled blood in the water,” Church said.
Facing a numbers disadvantage in the midfield due to Virginia’s 4-4-2 formation, Duke switched from its 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2 to help the team in its defensive efforts.
In the 50th minute though, Cavalier forward Caroline Miller—the ACC’s leading scorer—got her team on the scoreboard when she put away a one-timer off a cross.
Although Virginia had 11 shots in the second half, just two were on target, as Anasi and the Blue Devil back four held tight.
“[Natasha] played amazingly,” DeCesare said. “I think she didn’t hold anything back, and that’s really important.”
As the game drew to a close, DeCesare notched a second goal to put the game away.
After gaining possession for Duke in the 88th minute, Kerr looked to play the ball upfield. Instead of leading DeCesare to the corner of the field to waste time, however, Kerr kept the ball toward the middle.
“It was a great ball, and the goalie had come out and left the goal wide open,” DeCesare said.
The attempt paid off for DeCesare as her shot found the back of the net to give the Blue Devils a 3-1 lead.
“I’ve never been so happy to see a goal go in than when that third goal rolled in,” Church said. “The goalkeeper thought Kim was going to the corner and Kim thought that she was going to the corner… but she saw the goalkeeper overplaying one side so she came back across away from the goalkeeper and rolled it into the net. That was the prettiest goal I’ve ever seen.”
With a two-goal advantage, Duke cruised to victory in the remaining three minutes to return to the NCAA quarterfinals.
“We were just so motivated and ready to play that it was going to take a very, very, very good and heart-filled team to beat us,” DeCesare said. “And not saying that they didn’t have heart, but we had more heart than anybody today.”