After almost 202 minutes played on the season, the Blue Devils finally registered their first goal of the season. They didn’t look back from there.
Freshman forward Imani Dorsey netted the first goal in the 22nd minute and sophomore midfielder Toni Payne added another for good measure in the 50th minute as unranked Duke went on to beat the No. 13 Mountaineers 2-0 at Dick Dlesk Stadium in Morgantown, W.Va.
“[The win] feels great because we didn't feel like we were too far away,” head coach Robbie Church said. “We felt like we had to clean some things up and I think how we got the win with scoring two goals, not giving up a goal, playing in a really difficult place to play and our kids being really committed [was great]. We played a lot of players and they worked very hard so it’s a great team win.”
After opening up the season 0-2 for the first time in Church’s tenure and the first time since the 1996 season, Duke (1-2) needed to find itself—and quickly—before playing its home opener on Sunday. The Blue Devils answered that call Friday by going out and taking an early lead against West Virginia (1-2).
After a failed corner kick by freshman midfielder Ashton Miller and a blocked shot off the foot of Payne, sophomore Christina Gibbons found the ball and played it through to a streaking Dorsey along the left of the six-yard box. Dorsey was able to make a good touch on the ball and ripped a shot off her outside foot into the upper-right corner of the net past the outstretched arms of Mountaineer goalkeeper Hannah Steadman.
The goal was the first of the season for the Blue Devils but as the visiting squad celebrated on the field and on the bench, the sleeping beast that is the West Virginia attack was awakened.
After Dorsey’s goal, the Mountaineers locked down defensively, allowing no more shots in the half while also pressing harder in the attacking third, rattling off four shots before the conclusion of the half.
The second half opened up with the same firepower from West Virginia’s offense and several tests of Duke’s goalkeeper, redshirt junior Ali Kershner.
Less than two minutes into the half, West Virginia earned a corner kick and got a great chance after the corner was directed to the head of sophomore forward Ashley Lawrence. A brilliant reaction-save by Kershner kept the ball from crossing the line and the Blue Devil defenders were able to swarm and force the rebound shot wide of the net.
“We knew they were going to come out,” Church said. “We knew [West Virginia head coach Nikki Izzo-Brown] was going to get them fired up at halftime—they're a very emotional coaching staff and an emotional team. We knew that was coming and I thought we handled it pretty well. They had a lot of shots, had a lot of really hard shots, but I thought Ali made two or three big saves, really big saves."
The ball was kept inside Duke’s defensive third for almost the entirety of the beginning of the second stanza, but it was West Virginia’s third corner kick in less than three minutes that provided the Blue Devils with the opportunity to score its second goal of the game.
After the corner was cleared softly out to Duke senior Kelly Cobb, the forward relayed a long pass out to Payne who was left one-on-one with a Mountaineer center back along the left wing. Payne used her speed to her advantage and left her defender in her wake then calmly put the ball past the goalkeeper to give the Blue Devils a 2-0 lead.
“We caught them with a beautiful pass,” Church said. “Kelly Cobb played a great ball into Toni, and Toni really attacked the outside back well and was able to slide it up and get the goalkeeper and that second goal was huge; that second goal was really, really big. It wasn’t a perfect game by any means, there’s a lot more things that we have to do but this is a huge confidence builder going into Sunday’s game.”
The Mountaineers, having been down by two goals twice already in the season, were not deterred by this surge of offense from Duke. Two minutes after Payne netted her goal, junior forward Kailey Utley fired what was probably West Virginia’s best shot of the game: a right-footed strike towards the far right post. Kershner, though, was able to dive to her right to make a one-handed save and deflect the ball out of play.
West Virginia would continue to test Kershner and the Duke defense through the second half forcing the redshirt junior goalkeeper from Palo Alto, Calif., to make four total saves in the half while absorbing 12 shots. None of those 12 shots would be able to find the netting, though, and Duke was able to hold on for the victory.
“You don’t want to say it’s do-or-die by any means—it’s early—but it was a big game,” Church said. “They’re a nationally-ranked team, and it was on their home field in a tough environment. I was happy to see us take all of that and push it out. It was really big, and I still think it shows what we can become if we come out and focus in and really play with confidence. We don't want to be hesitant. We want to attack teams… and this prepares us for the ACC…. We have to learn to win on other people’s fields. Our first three ACC games are on the road—at Pittsburgh, at N.C. State, and at Virginia Tech—so hopefully this will help us when we get into those games.”