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Payne, Racioppi lead Duke women's soccer past William & Mary

<p>Junior Toni Payne found the back of the net for the first time this season Sunday, putting home a rebound to give Duke an insurance goal.</p>

Junior Toni Payne found the back of the net for the first time this season Sunday, putting home a rebound to give Duke an insurance goal.

For 110 minutes Friday, the Blue Devils were unable to put the ball in the net despite plenty of scoring chances.

The first half of Sunday’s game brought more of the same, but the second half was an entirely different story as the Duke offense broke out of its slumber.

The No. 21 Blue Devils defeated William & Mary 2-0 Sunday night in their home opener at Koskinen Stadium. The two goals give Duke 11 through four games this season—already halfway to last season’s total—and the offense controlled the pace for most of the game, outshooting the Tribe 27-4 and earning an 11-0 edge in corner kicks.

“Our attacking line has so much versatility. We can score goals from the outside, we can dribble-penetrate and beat some players [one-on-one] and this just adds even more to our versatility,” freshman Taylor Racioppi said. “We’re not only good players on the ball with shots, but we’re going to work hard to put the ball in the back of the net.”

The Blue Devils’ luck finally turned in the 52nd minute, when a handball by William & Mary defender Meghan Musgrove inside the penalty box gave Duke (3-0-1) a penalty kick. Head coach Robbie Church sent junior captain Christina Gibbons to the line to take the shot, and she fired one that beat the goalkeeper but rocketed off the crossbar and back into the field of play.

Fortunately for the Blue Devils, Racioppi was waiting, and she quickly deposited the rebound into the back of the net—her fourth goal of the season— to break the scoreless tie and give Duke a 1-0 lead.

After a first half filled with scoring chances—the Blue Devils outshot the Tribe (3-1) 10-0 in the opening period—and an overtime game Friday that ended without a goal, Church said Racioppi’s score could not have come at a better time for his club.

“The timing where it came was before panic set in. A lot of people don’t know how hard it is to break down a 10-player bunker. It’s not easy,” Church said. “I thought we were close to doing it, but then [in] the second half the goals came at such a critical time because in another 10, 15 minutes, panic would have set in a little bit with coaches, players on the sideline [and] players on the field.”

Racioppi very nearly added her second goal of the game less than 10 minutes later when she launched a shot off her left foot from the edge of the 18-yard box that scraped the bottom of the post. The ball bounced straight down—just inches shy of crossing the goal-line—and junior forward Toni Payne headed it past William & Mary goalkeeper Caroline Casey to stretch the Duke lead to 2-0.

Church pointed out how pleased he was to see both of the Blue Devils’ goals come on hustle plays, and Payne said the concept of following a teammate’s shot was one the coaching staff has been preaching consistently.

“I think in practice for a couple weeks we’ve been harping on crashing the ball every time there’s a shot,” Payne said. “So I knew every time there’s a shot on goal, I’m just going to crash it every time, and it ended up being in the back of the net when I did that.”

Although the offense has been a bright spot for the team thus far, Duke’s sterling defensive play has been just as responsible for its undefeated record through four games. After recording a career-high 11 saves against No. 6 Penn State Friday, sophomore goalkeeper E.J. Proctor added another clean slate against the Tribe, giving the Blue Devils four straight shutouts to open the season for the first time since 1997.

The play of Proctor has certainly been a big factor in the team’s scoreless streak, but Church continued to praise his team’s defensive efforts from all positions. Duke held William & Mary—which had scored 11 goals in its prior three games—without a shot until the 63rd minute, thanks to an offense that dominated possession and a midfield that stifled potential counter-attacks that made it a fairly easy night for Proctor.

“I think we knew we had the ability to defend like this and it was a priority because we’ve given up way too many goals,” Church said. “To play for championships, you can’t be giving up goals. We knew that, we saw that ourselves in 2011 [when Duke made it to the national championship game]. It’s a high priority. I just want to stress how much it’s been team defending.”

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