Field hockey falls to Wake in finals

AMHERST, Mass. -- It shaped up as it was supposed to Sunday at Garber Field in Amherst, Ma.: No. 1 Wake Forest and No. 2 Duke facing each other for the national title. The big difference: Experience. Wake Forest is the defending national champion, while the upstart Blue Devils were playing in their first Final Four.

A combination of national title game jitters and a series of fortunate bounces allowed the Demon Deacons to jump out to an early 2-0 lead with senior Katie Ackerman netting back-to-back goals just two minutes apart. The early advantage was too much for Duke to overcome, falling 3-1 to the back-to-back national champions.

The Blue Devils stepped up their play after halftime, generating more scoring and corner opportunities.

"Obviously we are very disappointed that we didn't put two good halves together," first-year head coach Beth Bozman said. "I guess it showed a little bit of our lack of experience being in this situation, not playing our game in the first half."

Duke scored its lone goal of the game early in the second period. A waist-high shot off a corner opportunity by junior Gracie Sorbello slipped by Wake Forest keeper Katie Ridd.

After the goal, the Blue Devils continued to pressure the Demon Deacons, controlling the time of possession and soon earning another scoring opportunity--a Amy Stopford shot that was deflected away from the goal by Ridd's foot. The Duke fans began to gasp every time Wake Forest penetrated the Duke defense, sensing that a third Wake Forest goal would all but seal the title.

At the 52:31 mark, this nearly became a reality when the Demon Deacons earned a penalty stroke. Kelly Dostal, one of the most storied players in Wake Forest history who was named to the All-Tournament team after the match, could not get the ball past Duke goalie Christy Morgan.

Play resumed with the Blue Devils still very much in contention. Then, Sorbello's shot off a corner chance rung off the right post--a moment that was likely the most pivotal point in the second half.

Although the Blue Devils did not let up, the Demon Deacons were able to take advantage of their good fortune. After the Blue Devils failed to clear a penalty corner, as was the case with the early goals, the Demon Deacons scored on a ball bounding in front of the cage. Freshman Kristi Harshman was able to extend the lead to 3-1, and with seven minutes remaining, all but killed Duke's hopes at a national title.

Throughout the game, the Wake Forest defense was able to stymie the quick Duke attack, using its physical size to bump the Blue Devils' attack off the ball.

As a result, the Duke attack was not able to muster the high-quality breakaways that it did so well throughout the season. Duke's leading scorer, Katie Grant, was often thwarted by aggressive and stick-savvy backs.

"They had a great defense," senior attack Kim Van Kirk said. "I think we could have done a better job getting the ball upfield by cutting back to the ball."

To advance to Sunday's showdown against Wake Forest, the Blue Devils advanced over third-seeded Maryland Friday night. Much like the Demon Deacons did yesterday, the Blue Devils came out with aggression and built a 3-0 lead by the 15:23 mark. If the Blue Devils were nervous in their first Final Four, the early score did not show it.

Duke's scoring threats, Sorbello, Grant and Chrissie Murphy each marshaled goals for the Blue Devils with a strong transition game and early control of the neutral zone.The Terrapins narrowed the Blue Devil lead after the break, but Van Kirk netted a goal amidst confusion in front of the net. The momentum-swinging tally gave Duke a comfortable cushion, and the Blue Devils went on to win 4-2.

But despite being unable to deliver Sunday, the Duke season was far-and-away the best in school history, winning 20 games, four more than its previous high.

The Duke players attribute their newfound success to Bozman who came to the program from Princeton. With tears welling up in her eyes, she said, "We had a tremendous season, and I'm very proud to be their coach."


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