Making it to Annapolis has been Duke’s goal all year long. Sunday the dream came true. The second-seeded Blue Devils (17-3) advanced to the women’s lacrosse Final Four, where they will face sixth-seeded Virginia (16-4), a team they beat 9-6 to win their first ever ACC Championship May 1. The national semifinal will be played Friday at Marine Corp’s Stadium and will begin at 8:15 p.m.
Only adding to the excitement of making the second Final Four in program history was the path the Blue Devils took to get there. Given the Blue Devils and Tar Heels’ previous four meetings had been decided by a total of five goals, Duke dominated its archrival North Carolina 15-7 in the quarterfinal game.
“I remember even looking up at the clock in the first half and being up by so many goals was awesome because usually against Carolina it’s a one or two goal game,” sophomore Leigh Jester said. “This was the first time we pulled away and took control. Even at the end when the clock was ticking down it was just really exciting to be up by so many goals.”
Following a strong first half that put them ahead 10-3 at the break, the Blue Devils surrendered three free-position goals within the first five minutes of the second period, which closed the gap to just four.
But freshman Rachel Sanford responded with 14:11 remaining, and Jester added another minutes later to extend the lead to five.
“On our offensive end we kind of floundered the ball away a little at the beginning of the second half,” head coach Kerstin Kimel said. “We gave up three straight goals on three straight positions. Then those two goals broke their back a little bit.”
Although Duke would surrender another free-position goal, it was able to maintain possession and run down the clock in the closing minutes. Sanford tallied her fourth score of the game, and Katie Chrest and Kristen Waagbo also netted goals. ACC Player of the Year Chrest finished with seven points.
“Anytime you play UNC it’s going to be an intense game, just because there is so much behind the Duke-UNC rivalry,” Sanford said. “This game we knew we had to win to go on to the Final Four. We really prepared all week for UNC, in particular, and really came out with that strong will to win right from the start.”
The game opened with a flurry of scoring as Duke jumped out to an early 2-1 lead. Then the Blue Devils went on a 6-0 run, scoring many of those goals out of unsettled situations. Kimel said her team was able to rattle North Carolina goalie Kristen Hordy with its 19 first half shots.
Duke won 14 of the 24 draw controls, including 10-of-14 in the opening period, which helped the Blue Devils dictate tempo and control possession. Since the team’s 16-11 loss to Northwestern April 10, Kimel has preached ball control, and she said her players have responded well during their current seven-game win streak.
Controlling tempo and maintaining possession will be critical again in Friday’s match against defending national champion Virginia. Duke has won the previous two meetings this season and was successful in shutting down the Cavaliers’ top-three scorers—Amy Appelt, Tyler Leachman and Cary Chasney—in the teams’ last contest. Senior defender Caline McHenry was assigned the difficult task of marking Appelt that game and became the first player in high school or college to keep the 2004 Tewaaraton Trophy winner scoreless.
“Their top-three scorers are huge. If you shut them down, you shut [Virginia] down,” Jester said. “I’m pretty sure they’re going to be out for blood this game considering that we were pretty successful shutting them down.”
Northwestern and Dartmouth will play in the other semifinal Friday at 6 p.m.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.