For much of the season Duke has been unable to turn a multitude of good looks into goals. But Sunday, with scoring opportunities at a premium, the Blue Devils were able to capitalize.
Freshman Toni Payne gave the Blue Devils a 1-0 lead in the 34th minute, and junior Kelly Cobb tacked on a second goal in the 55th minute, as Duke came away with a 2-1 victory against Maryland (7-7, 3-5 in the ACC) at Ludwig Field in College Park, Md.
The victory snapped a six-match winless skid for Duke (5-6-3, 2-4-2), which hadn’t won since defeating Miami 3-0 in its ACC opener Sept. 12.
“This was almost a do-or-die game for us,” Duke head coach Robbie Church said. “You have to be .500 to be in the NCAA tournament. Our RPI is really high, which is good, but this [win] got us closer to that .500 mark. It was a must-win—the kids knew it, and they responded.”
Duke was able to generate just nine shots, well below its season average of 16.8 shots per match entering Sunday’s contest. Church said the team switched to a defensive-oriented scheme, attacking on offense with four players and defending with six to give a young Blue Devil back line some help. But the Blue Devils made the most of their offensive opportunities.
The first goal came on an individual stroke of brilliance of from Payne, who attacked down the right side and buried a shot past Maryland goalie Rachelle Beanlands.
“Nobody on our bench even knew that the ball went in, she struck from such a difficult angle,” Church said. “That was a huge spark for us.”
Duke added to its lead when it earned a corner kick and Cobb came up with possession after a flurry of action, depositing the ball into the net to give the Blue Devils a 2-0 advantage.
“You could see the second goal coming,” Church said. “We were attacking well in their territory, we were pressuring them, we got a corner kick, so we had some good things going for us.”
The breakthrough came when senior Mollie Pathman served a cross into the box, where it was headed by senior defender Natasha Anasi. The ball careened to Cobb, who snuck it through the Terrapin defense into the back of the net for her fourth goal of the season.
Redshirt junior goalie Meghan Thomas recorded nine saves for the Blue Devils in her return to the starting lineup. Thomas had not started a game since Aug. 30 against Kennesaw State.
“Meghan worked hard to get back from her injury like she has her entire career,” Church said. “We felt it was time for her to get an opportunity, and she played very well. She was confident that she could play, and she did a great job.”
Terrapin midfielder Cory Ryan slipped a shot past Thomas in the 69th minute to cut the Duke lead in half, but the Blue Devil defense clamped down in the final 20 minutes to preserve the lead.
Church said Duke reaped the benefits of not having a mid-week game in the ACC. Coming off a 4-1 defeat at Boston College, he gave his team Monday and Tuesday off to rest and recover.
“Everybody was pretty down after that game, because it was a lot closer than the score showed,” Church said. “It was good to have [Monday and Tuesday] off before four days of practice, especially with midterms and everything academically.”
The Blue Devils have five games remaining, with three of them coming away from Koskinen Stadium. Duke will need to finish the season strong if it wants to get back to the NCAA tournament for the 11th straight year. Sunday’s victory was an important first step.
"This was a much, much-needed win,” Church said. “It was great to see smiles on the kids’ faces again.”