The No. 2 women’s lacrosse team put a scare into Northwestern Sunday but was ultimately overpowered by the top-ranked team in the nation in a 16-11 defeat.
Duke (10-3) led early, but Rachel Sanford’s three goals were not enough for the Blue Devils to stymie the momentum of Northwestern, which is still undefeated in 11 games this season.
“Northwestern is a powerful team,” Sanford said. “We came out hard like usual, but they came right back.”
Despite an 8-0 first-half run by the Wildcats that put them up 11-7 at the break, Duke put itself in striking position when it scored the first two goals of the second half.
Kristen Waagbo finished a long feed from Stefanie Sparks, and then Sparks found the net on an unassisted goal of her own just minutes later.
The Wildcats responded with three goals before Sanford found the back of the net with her third and final goal. It was too late, however, as Northwestern elected to slow the pace of play down for the rest of the game.
“We didn’t think we were out of the game really until they went into a stall with about 13 minutes left,” Sanford said. “We came out strong in the second half and were really excited.
“It’s definitely frustrating when a team [stalls], but it was worse because we couldn’t win a draw, which allowed them to keep the ball in their hands.”
The Blue Devils, who have been known all season for fast starts, went up on Northwestern one minute into the first half.
After controlling the opening draw, Leigh Jester converted a free-position to put Duke on the board. Katie Chrest won the ensuing draw and quickly fed a breaking Waagbo for the team’s second score only seven seconds after its first.
Northwestern matched Duke with two goals of its own, but the Blue Devils kept at it and scored the next four. Michelle Menser and Sanford connected for unassisted goals just 23 seconds apart to give the Blue Devils their biggest advantage of the match.
The Wildcats were not scared off by Duke’s early prowess and went on their 8-0 run after being down 6-2.
“When any team goes on a run like that it’s hard to just get the ball back,” Sanford said. “But even though they were on that run we tried to remain positive.”
Despite the loss, the weekend was not a complete disappointment for Duke. The team played powerhouse Northwestern close, and addedNotre Dame (3-7) Friday. Duke beat the Fighting Irish 11-8 behind four goals from Sanford.
“The Notre Dame game was harder than we anticipated, but we persevered and pulled through for the win,” Sanford said. “This weekend puts us in a great position. It was against great competition and that will prepare us for other games come tournament time. We’re excited to play Northwestern again.”
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