Mired in a season-long offensive slump, Duke head coach Robbie Church maintained confidence that the goals would come for his Blue Devils. Thursday night at Koskinen Stadium, the floodgates finally opened.
No. 12 Duke used three second-half goals to defeat Miami 3-0 in its ACC opener, handing the Hurricanes their first loss of the season. It was the first time the Blue Devils have scored multiple goals in a game all year.
“It was nice to see the first goal go in,” Church said. “We all said it was a matter of time and we kept waiting and waiting, and it was great to see.”
As has been the norm for the Blue Devils this season, the offense had plenty of opportunities to strike in the first half, but was unable to deliver. Duke (4-2-1, 1-0 in the ACC) outshot Miami (5-1, 0-1) 12-6 in the opening period, finding plenty of room to maneuver through the Hurricane defense before being stymied in the final third of the field.
Though Duke dominated the first half, the Blue Devils nearly went into the locker room trailing. Late in the first half, Katy Colas fouled a Hurricane inside the 18-yard box, warranting a penalty kick for Miami. Midfielder Tara Schwitter stared down Duke goalie Ali Kershner and fired a shot to Kershner’s left. Kershner dove, deflecting the ball up and over the net to bail out her teammate and preserve the scoreless tie.
“[I was] just trying to keep my team in the game,” Kershner said. “If I can make a save here, it’s a huge momentum shift. This is my job. I decided on a side, and it worked out.”
Church was effusive in his praise of his sophomore goalkeeper, who made five saves on the night to earn her third shutout of the season.
“We controlled the first half of the game, and then we could have been down 1-0 at half,” Church said. “And then we start pressing, [Miami] stops trying to attack. That save was so big in so many ways.”
Even after the big save, Duke needed to finish an offensive attack, a fact not lost on Kershner.
“At halftime they were telling me, ‘Good save, good save.’ And I told them that it doesn’t matter if we don’t win this game,” Kershner said. “They came out and gave me some run support, and it feels so good because we finally put together a really complete.”
Duke ended its scoring drought in the 49th minute, when Laura Weinberg and Kim DeCesare found a streaking Toni Payne down the left sideline. The freshman bent a shot inside the right post, tallying the first goal of her collegiate career.
Ten minutes later, it was senior Kaitlyn Kerr who found the back of the net for Duke. Senior Mollie Pathman sent a free kick into the box, where the ball bounced around in a traffic jam of players until it found Kerr, who snuck it past Hurricane goalie Emily Lillard.
Cobb finally broke through with her first goal of the season in the 77th minute, again set up by a cross from Pathman. Kerr took the cross and fed it backward to set up Cobb, who drilled a shot from just beyond the box. The shot was deflected by a Hurricane player and found the back of the net.
Getting a break could be all Cobb needs to get going this season as the junior seeks to regain her freshman form.
“It’s a good feeling, finally scoring, but I feel like we were getting there every time and just unlucky that we weren’t getting [goals] before,” Cobb said. “Starting off the ACC opener with a 3-0 victory is pretty awesome.”
Church noted that Cobb, who set a career high with eight shots on goal, seemed much more aggressive against the Hurricanes.
“[The first goal] always relieves a burden,” Church said. “But it wasn’t just the goal, it was the attacking mentality.”
Pathman, whose crosses set up the final two goals, said the team as a whole felt a collective sigh of relief following Cobb’s goal.
“Our forwards have been working so hard, so to get that weight off their shoulders was just huge for them,” Pathman said. “We know there’s a lot more to come from them.”