KENNESAW, Ga. – Too little, too late.
Needing a goal in the dying minutes of the national championship game, Duke did everything except equalize against a tightly-packed Stanford defense, despite a spirited fight in the final 20 minutes. As Stanford cleared the ball away for the final time with just seconds remaining, midfielder Kaitlyn Kerr fell to the ground, sobbing uncontrollably as her Blue Devils failed to tie the game before the clock expired. For Stanford, it was a storybook ending to a perfect season. For Duke, it was simply heartbreak.
The Cardinal (25-0-1), behind an opportunistic goal from captain Teresa Noyola, held on to win the first national championship in school history, with a 1-0 thriller over the Blue Devils (22-4-1). Despite a number of chances late in the game, Duke’s offense was held scoreless for just the fourth time all season.
“We all walk out of here and we’re disappointed, but we’ll walk out with our head held high,” head coach Robbie Church said. “I thought we played hard and battled for the whole 90 minutes.”
Playing for the program’s first-ever national title, the Blue Devils started the game looking dangerous in attack—something Duke had struggled to accomplish in the NCAA Tournament.
Duke weathered the Cardinal storm that followed and began to create its own chances late in the half, as a wave of Blue Devil substitutions injected some much-needed energy into the Duke attack. Striker Katie Trees and midfielder Kim DeCesare pressured the Stanford back line and each forced nervous clearances from the Cardinal defenders.
In the waning minutes of the first half, Blue Devil winger Molly Lester had the best chance of the half to break the deadlock, when she stripped center back Alina Garciamendez of possession and had a one-on-one opportunity with Stanford goalkeeper Emily Oliver. Under pressure from the recovering Garciamendez, Lester’s shot sailed over the crossbar.
The Blue Devils, who gave the Cardinal their toughest test of the season, went down a goal in the 53rd minute, when a lucky Stanford bounce resulted in the game’s only goal. With the Cardinal mounting an attack, Kelly Cobb failed to clear a pass into the box and the ball rolled to Camille Levin, who posed problems for Duke’s defense throughout the day. Levin was met by Blue Devil center back Natasha Anasi, who blocked the fullback’s first cross. The two players fell to the grass, but Levin jumped up and beat Anasi to the endline. Her second cross was on target, finding Noyola at the back post, and the Cardinal senior headed the ball in from very close range.
The goal gave the Cardinal the momentum, and Stanford threatened to double its advantage soon afterward, but the stellar play of the Duke defense, anchored by Anasi and junior Libby Jandl, kept the Blue Devils in the game.
A media timeout with 21:02 left on the clock allowed the Blue Devils to gather and discuss strategy with Church, and Duke took complete control from the ensuing restart. Almost instantly, the Blue Devils could have been awarded a penalty kick, as sophomore Mollie Pathman sprung into the box from the left edge of the field and was taken down by freshman defender Kendall Romine, but the referee called for play to continue.
Unfazed, the Blue Devils piled pressure on the Stanford defense and played with a lineup featuring only one starting defender for the final stretch of the game. In the 72nd minute, Pathman—who had been moved to left back to accommodate extra forwards on the field—beat her defender and served an inch-perfect cross into the box in the direction of Weinberg. In the middle of the penalty area just 10 yards from the goal, Weinberg attempted to volley the ball goalward, but her shot was deflected by Cardinal defender Rachel Quon and flew over the crossbar. “I had good contact on the ball and I think it probably would’ve gone in,” Weinberg said. “Unfortunately she got that deflection and we got a corner.”
Stanford, with every player deep inside its own half, had plenty of nervous moments in defense but the Blue Devils were not allowed clear chances at goal and could not beat Oliver from long range. Kerr drove a shot from 25 yards that looked destined for the back of the net, but Oliver made a leaping save to deflect the ball over the crossbar.
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Duke earned two corner kicks in the final three minutes of the game, but neither found their way into the back of the net, and Stanford’s long clearances ate up the remaining time. As the clock struck 90 minutes, the Cardinal celebrated a long-awaited triumph on college soccer’s grandest stage, while the Blue Devils were left to weep.
“This is where we want to be. We want to play in front of everyone for a national championship,” Church said. “We’ll continue to work hard because everybody else in the ACC has this goal.”