CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — As threatening clouds rolled in and covered Klockner Stadium during the second half Saturday afternoon, rain was imminent. For a short time, it seemed that a Duke collapse was just as likely.
The Blue Devils (9-2, 3-1 in the ACC) built an 11-3 halftime lead over Virginia, but after the break the Cavaliers (6-2, 2-1) stormed back and were scoring goals quickly. Junior Katie Chrest would not let the nation’s No. 2 team get any closer than three goals, however, as No. 5 Duke held on for the 16-12 victory.
Duke moves into a three-way tie with Virginia and North Carolina atop the nation’s best conference. With the three ACC teams ranked within the top five in the nation, the win was the biggest of the season to date for the Blue Devils.
“It puts us in a better position for the conference tournament,” head coach Kerstin Kimel said. “For us though right now, we have to do a better job in the second half offensively than we did.
“We had built ourselves a nice lead in the first half so we were able to play that way and get away with it.”
The Cavaliers penetrated the Blue Devils’ defense and had several long uncontested runs at the cage as they sliced Duke’s lead in half in the first 12 minutes of the second period. Virginia’s leading scorer Tyler Leachman connected on two of her four goals during that stretch.
“The backside of our defense got caught ball watching and people just slid in unmarked and that was easy,” Kimel said.
Although other Cavaliers were getting to the goal, the Blue Devils held reigning Tewaaraton Trophy winner Amy Appelt in check. She scored two goals and assisted on two others but was not the dominant player she had been when she scored five goals in her team’s rout of Duke in the ACC Championship finals last season.
Virginia head coach Julie Myers said Appelt lost focus after “a couple of frustrating early shots that she never recovered from.”
Appelt’s two assists came on nearly identical plays on consecutive possessions in the second period to bring the score to 13-10. She rolled out to the left from behind the goal and as she stepped toward the crease found teammates cutting down the middle for easy scores.
“Amy, that’s the one part of her game that she’s been able to develop,” Kimel said. “She knows she’s going to be well marked every game and her teammates know that as well, so I think they have some really nice role players that are ready to slip in there as soon as their girl isn’t paying attention.”
But for the second time, Chrest snapped a Cavalier streak. Earlier she halted a 4-0 run with her fourth goal of the game on a high shot she fired while running toward the left side of the net. Only 43 seconds after Appelt’s second assist, she moved horizontally from left to right in front of the cage and fired a line drive shot past the goalkeeper.
“We’ve struggled in the second half, and all its taken is a goal to get us back on track in a lot of the games we played,” Chrest said. “Being the older person out there I guess, I kind of knew something had to be done.”
Kimel said her team did not show patience and adjust well Saturday when Virginia sent its double-teams and covered Duke’s initial cutters after halftime.
“I think we come out extremely strong, which is a big change from last year—last year we were kind of a second half team,” sophomore Leigh Jester said. “We just find it kind of hard at halftime to keep it going. It’s all mental.”
The Blue Devils dominated all aspects of the game over the first 30 minutes. They outshot the Cavaliers 21-9 and were the quicker team to the ball, picking up 14 of the 16 ground balls.
Duke trailed just once, 2-1, but then rattled off nine straight goals including two of Jester’s four scores.
“I think the first half was definitely the best first half we’ve had all season,” Jester said.
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