Duke’s offense was clicking from the opening faceoff, and the Blue Devils’ bid for a second-straight ACC regular season title would not be denied.
Three Duke goals in the opening two minutes gave the second-ranked Blue Devils (12-3, 3-1 in the ACC) an early advantage they would never relinquish as they cruised to a decisive 20-7 victory over Virginia Tech (5-9, 0-4) Friday.
With the win, Duke will enter this weekend’s ACC Championships in Baltimore, Md. as the top seed and will face the winner Thursday’s game between North Carolina and Virginia Tech. The Tar Heels were the only ACC team to beat the Blue Devils this season in a 12-11 decision March 12.
“For us it’s a nice testament to the type of season that we’ve had,” head coach Kerstin Kimel said of the regular season title. “With the exception of the Carolina game—which we are certainly hoping we get the opportunity to play them again—I’m really proud of this group because they’ve just been such a fun group to coach. They’ve responded well in the face of adversity or after we haven’t performed well.”
Junior Katie Chrest netted three goals, giving her 54 scores on the season. That total ties her with former Blue Devil Tricia Martin, who scored 54 goals in the 1998 season.
“Of course she’d downplay it,” sophomore Kristen Waagbo said of Chrest’s accomplishments. “She’s such a great teammate. No one probably would ever know that she tied that record unless the reporters or whatever told us.”
Since the team’s loss to No. 1 Northwestern April 10, Kimel has made regular references to things the team learned from that “turning point,” particularly regarding the team’s tempo on offense.
The Blue Devils managed a number of goals in transition Friday, including Waagbo’s third goal, which put Duke ahead 11-4 with five minutes to go in the first half. The sophomore drove toward the right post and when the Hokies’ goalie Nikki Schiavone bit on her fake, Waagbo fired a no-look shot over her shoulder into the left side of the net.
Just as Kimel has been preaching, the Blue Devils slowed the pace of the game when fastbreak opportunities were not available and worked through their motion offense.
“We’ve just been really working on tempo control—when to know when to push the ball and when to know when to hold it—and so I think we’ve found a happy medium,” Waagbo said. “We’re a bunch of offensive minded people so we’ve kind of learned to take our time and get into the plays and do things right.”
Duke outshot Virginia Tech 20-13 in the first half as eight different Blue Devils found the net for a 13-4 advantage.
Although goalie Meghan Heuther recorded eight saves in the opening stanza, Kimel said she was unsatisfied with the overall play of her defense.
“I felt like a lot of the goals we gave up in the first half were soft,” Kimel said. “They were out of transition. It was because of disorganization, because we weren’t communicating—kind of the same things we’ve been working on trying to correct.”
But after Kimel told the defense it had a chance to redeem itself in the second period, it responded by forcing a number of turnovers, many of which led to scores on the other side of the field.
As the team turns its attention to the ACC Championships, it finds itself in a similar position to last season, but with a much different mindset. Last year’s finals ended in disappointment at the hands of eventual National Champion Virginia, 17-7.
“It’s definitely exciting but we want an ACC Championship via the tournament so that’s more important,” Chrest said. “It’s definitely a huge accomplishment for our program. The ACC’s a pretty competitive conference, but I think we want that trophy at the end of next weekend.”
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.