After the skies had cleared, the lightning had disappeared and an hour delay had gone by, the Blue Devils took to the field for their season-opener against Ohio State. Unfortunately for Duke—despite dominating the shot count—none of its many offensive chances could find the back of the net.
Backed by a goal scored by Cary, N.C., native Alexis Degler in the 67th minute, the Buckeyes were able to overcome being outshot and outplayed for most of the match and claim a 1-0 victory against the Blue Devils in Chapel Hill. This is the first season-opener Duke has dropped since 2004.
“We did so many good things and we created so many chances so you feel bad for the team here because I thought we played really, really well,” head coach Robbie Church said. “But the final component is finishing goals…. College soccer’s not a beauty contest. You have to be tough, you have to battle, and you have to fight.”
The Blue Devils came out firing against Ohio State, dominating the pace of play throughout the early portion of the first half. The first shot of the game came just 71 seconds into the game for Duke as freshman forward Imani Dorsey forced Buckeye goalkeeper Megan Geldernick to make a nimble, diving save.
Through the first 20 minutes of the match, the young Duke squad maintained complete control both on the offensive and defensive ends of the pitch, limiting Ohio State’s possession of the ball and making key tackles on the rare occasion that the Buckeyes were able to break out into a counterattack.
“We had some great chances the first part [of the match],” Church said. “We hit balls high to the goalkeeper and she made some saves, and we hit some balls in near post a little bit too, we just weren’t composed on those chances. But we created some really good opportunities.”
Toward the end of the first half, Church began to play around with his attacking four, making several substitutions and rotations up front including moving senior Kelly Cobb from the left midfielder position to her more natural center forward position and bringing in sophomore Rebecca Quinn—making her first appearance with Duke since returning from playing with the Canadian national team in the U-20 World Cup—to play the right midfield position.
The mixing up of players in the attacking third seemed to be paying dividends for Duke as the players created several scoring chances going into the half but just were not able to find the right touch and find the back of the netting.
Despite commanding the game throughout the half, the Blue Devils only attempted six shots in the first half with three of them finding the target.
It was in the second half that Duke began to pour on the shots. The Blue Devils attempted 16 shots in the second half with nine different Duke players attempting a shot to complete a 22-7 shot advantage over the Buckeyes. Duke continued to push the pace early in the second half, containing Ohio State’s attack and allowing few opportunities past midfield for the Buckeyes.
Even with the Blue Devils playing so well, it was one fatal mistake that would end up costing them the match.
After a turnover by Duke in its defensive third in the 66th minute, junior midfielder Michela Paradiso beat the only defender in front of her to get a one-on-one shot on net against redshirt junior goalkeeper Ali Kershner. Kershner made a spectacular diving save to her right but the ball bounded off of her outstretched hands to the wide-open Alexis Degler just outside the left side of the six-yard box. With Kershner scrambling to recover and no Duke defenders in sight, the sophomore midfielder was able to put the ball home relatively easily. It was the only goal the Buckeyes would need.
Despite the loss, there were plenty of positives to build on for the Blue Devils, especially with the return of their captain Gilda Doria. In her first action since the 2012 season, Doria totaled 34 minutes played at the holding midfield position and did not attempt a shot.
“It felt amazing just to put my jersey back on and just step on the field with my teammates,” Doria said. “I think that was what really was driving me really the whole time during rehab and it’s just an unbelievable experience. An unfortunate result but on to the next one.”
The starting lineup for Duke set a school record for the amount of freshmen starting in the season opener. The five Blue Devil freshmen that made their debuts—Dorsey, along with midfielders Casey Martinez and Ashton Miller and outside backs Morgan Reid and Schuylet DeBree—bested the school record set back in 2002, when four freshmen started for the Blue Devils.
As all the young players will learn, the team doesn’t have much time to sulk over the loss, as they get right back to the pitch Sunday to face No. 6 Stanford in their second and final match of the UNC Nike Classic. Duke will need to rebound quickly to avoid falling into an early 0-2 hole.
“This is a learning lesson, I think, for the younger players,” Cobb said. “I think it’ll show how mature [they are] when we turn around and come out this Sunday because in college soccer you play a game, you get one day off, and then you play again.”