Blue Devils head to Philly for final 4

Third time's a charm-at least that is what junior defender Aiyana Newton said with a wishful smile following her team's 12-7 romping over John Hopkins last Saturday afternoon.

With their NCAA quarterfinal victory at Koskinen Stadium, the the No. 2 seed Blue Devils (16-3) advanced to the final four for the third consecutive season. But, in the past two years, the Blue Devils have failed to make it further than that, falling to Virginia and Northwestern in 2005 and 2006, respectively.

Now, Duke again must battle conference-rival third-seeded Virginia (18-3)-which advanced by defeating North Carolina-in the national semifinals at Franklin Field in Philadelphia at 8:30 p.m. Friday.

"Each year we've gone to the final four, we've taken an additional step," said senior midfielder Rachel Sanford. "I think our sophomore year when we were there, we were like, 'We made it!'. Then last year, we really competed. And this year, we really want to get to the final game and win the national championship."

Although Duke cruised through the second half of last weekend's contest, never allowing No. 6 seed John Hopkins (12-8) to get within four goals, the victory was not a forgone conclusion late in the first.

After the Blue Devils built a 4-1 lead in the early going off goals by Allie Johnson, Rachel Sanford and Jessica Adam, the Blue Jays climbed back into the game with a pair of their own.

Playing on their own defensive end for most of the game, John Hopkins took advantage of some open field opportunities to advance the ball up the field quickly. With 9:33 remaining before halftime and the Blue Devils up three, Imbesi deflected Blue Jay Kadie Stamper's shot, but the ball dropped to the ground off of the deflection and dribbled into the back of the net. Less than four minutes later, John Hopkins midfielder Kirby Houck fired low, and the shot skipped off the ground into the goal, closing Duke's lead to one, 4-3.

With their lead diminishing, the Blue Devils, though, played nearly perfect for the remainder of the half.

Kimel said she has told her team that there three big things in the postseason they need to do in order to advance: win the draw control, work over a defense and take good shots.

For the final five minutes before halftime, the Blue Devils did exactly what their coach asked them to do, controlling the ball and netting four goals before the break.

One of the keys for holding John Hopkins offense at bay was shutting Tewaarton Trophy Finalist Mary Key. Kimel assigned Newton to the job. The junior held Key, who led the nation coming into the game with 119 points on 65 goals and 54 assists, scoreless until the closing minutes of the game, when the contest was all but decided.

"I felt like every time she was coming at us, we knew exactly what we were going to do," Newton said. "I was really ready."

Since the win, the Blue Devils have had five days to plan for their match tomorrow night against Virginia, whom they beat 19-18 in triple-overtime comeback win April 2.

"Just because we are going to see a familiar opponent, doesn't mean we can take it relaxed," Kimel said. "We need to make sure we are continuing to sharpen up our game."


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