In all three of Duke's ACC battles this season, two things have remained the same: The Blue Devils have only played other ACC teams when those teams are ranked No. 1 and Duke has yet to topple a top-ranked opponent.
The Blue Devils (7-5, 0-2 in the ACC) fell to No. 1 Wake Forest (8-3, 1-1) at the Demon Deacons' Kentner Field Wednesday, 4-3. Although the game did not count toward either team's ACC records, the loss still stung.
Yet the loss, much like that against former No. 1 Maryland on Oct. 6, showed 14th-ranked Duke's continual improvement toward taking on top-ranked teams with confidence.
"It's good for our confidence when we play No. 1 teams well," senior Liz Bateman said. "But it's frustrating because we haven't beaten any of them and we know we could."
Against Maryland, the Blue Devils showed their usual tendency to lose an early lead, as Duke went up 4-0 on the Terps and then watched their cushion disappear as Maryland tied the game in the second half. Then Bateman stepped up and scored Duke's fifth goal of the game to give the Blue Devils the lead going into the last seven minutes of play.
Although Duke eventually lost to the Terrapins in overtime, coach Liz Tchou cited Bateman's goal as key for looking at the game as a "strong loss."
Against Wake Forest, Duke built on its steadily growing confidence to not only hold off, but threaten top-ranked teams, shrugging off an early Demon Deacon 3-0 first-half lead to come back to 4-3 in the second. Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, their late-blooming offense was not enough to force another overtime with the No. 1 team in the nation.
"In the past years, when we got behind we stayed behind," senior Robin Merritt said. "[To come back against Wake] shows that we've really grown."
Wake came out with a vengeance, scoring three goals in the first six minutes of play. Senior Jennie Shelton outfaked Duke goalie Hallie Smith to pass the ball to sophomore Kelly Doton, who did the honors for the Deacons.
Almost a minute later, junior Heather Aughinbaugh found a hole in the Duke defense for another Wake goal. Shelton then picked up her second assist of the night, feeding freshman Kelly Dostal to finish up Wake's first-half scoring.
"We're trying to work on putting 70 minutes of an entire game together," Bateman said. "We've been playing parts of games well and parts of games not so well, and other teams have been capitalizing on that. This week we're going to work on putting a whole game together."
Much like the start of the first half, Wake came out charging in the second stanza, as first-team All-American Jemima Cameron notched a goal of the game off a pass from Dostal to put the Deacons up 4-1.
Again, Duke took advantage of Wake's flat play during the middle of the half when senior back Angie North fed sophomore Stacey Tsougas for her third goal of the season 17 minutes into the half. Ten minutes later, Bateman recorded her 20th career goal off a Duke penalty corner and tied with freshman Johanna Bischof for a team-leading nine goals on the season.
"I'm working on capitalizing on my own opportunities in the circle," Bateman said. "Some of [my success] comes from experience since I am the only senior on the forward line. There are no juniors either, just sophomores and freshman, and part of it is that I have a history with these teams."
Yet again, though, Bateman's heroics were not enough to push the Blue Devils over the top-ranked hump. Duke attempted three penalty corners in the waning minutes of the game, but failed to convert.
Duke will next take on Ursinus at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 14 at Villanova.
After the Deacon onslaught, the Blue Devils blinked and took a timeout to collect their defense. From then on, Duke played the Deacons evenly and junior Chrissy Ashley spoiled the potential shutout with 13:54 remaining in the half.
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