The Blue Devils had scored 12 goals and conceded none in five regular-season games heading into Sunday’s matinee against California. But the Golden Bears gave them a reality check two weeks before ACC play starts.
Despite outshooting California 16-12, No. 18 Duke lost 3-1 in the last game of the Duke Nike Classic at Koskinen Stadium, leaving the Blue Devils with their first defeat of the year. The Golden Bears jumped out to a 2-0 lead midway through the first half and added a final score in the second half after Duke redshirt junior Danielle Duhl scored her first career goal.
“[Califonia] did a better job at what we wanted to do,” Duke head coach Robbie Church said. “We wanted to possess it, we wanted to move them around. They played  more minutes than we did on Friday night [in double-overtime against No. 4 North Carolina]. Give them credit for what they did. We looked like we played the extra 20 minutes. They moved us, they made us change side-to-side, they came in, they came out. Their coaches did a better job than us at preparing.”
Blue Devil freshman Taylor Racioppi could have put an early goal on the board for Duke with a header that flew above the crossbar in the eighth minute, but California countered and found the back of the net. In a two-minute span, the Golden Bears (3-1-1) manufactured a two-goal advantage thanks to forwards Arielle Ship and Ifeoma Onumonu. Twelve minutes into the first period, a give-and-go between the Golden Bear duo left Onumonu open down the right sideline, and the senior slipped a right-footed shot past goalkeeper E.J. Proctor from 10 yards out.
It was the first time the Blue Devils (4-1-1) had trailed all season, and the first goal allowed by Proctor. Church’s squad did not have much time to respond, though, as California doubled its advantage only two minutes later. After a turnover by the Duke defense, Onumonu fed Ship, who chipped the ball over Proctor with her right foot.
“I think the number one mistake was just miscommunication, a lack of organization,” junior captain Christina Gibbons said. “We haven’t been scored on before, so this was the first time we’ve experienced that, but obviously we’re going to have to learn from it and just move on.”
Church reshuffled his back line, bringing in freshman Chelsea Burns and redshirt sophomore Malinda Allen off the bench and moving Gibbons up to the attacking part of the field, where she spent much of last season. In the 37th minute, the Raleigh, N.C., native—who joined sophomore midfielder Ashton Miller as Blue Devil representatives on the Duke Nike Classic All-Tournament Team—assisted Racioppi with a long ball. The freshman from Ocean Township, N.J., did not think twice and fired from 14 yards but a defender snuffed out the shot.
During the following play, Duke trimmed California’s lead to one. With both Miller and Casey Martinez out of the game, Gibbons took the corner kick and what seemed to be an easy save for Golden Bear goalkeeper Emily Boyd turned into a Blue Devil goal. Boyd could not catch the ball cleanly, and Duhl raced in to attack the goal, sending the ball—and herself—into the back of the net.
With 10 seconds left before halftime, Duke nearly tied the contest on another Gibbons corner kick, but Allen’s header sailed over the crossbar, sending the Blue Devils to the locker room hoping they could still orchestrate a comeback. Two minutes into the second half, junior midfielder Toni Payne led Racioppi, who exploded past a Golden Bear defender and racked up one of her seven shots on the afternoon, but Boyd turned the shot away.
One minute later, Gibbons put a deep cross inside the box from the left side of the field. The ball caught a curling effect and hit the woodwork, but bounced harmlessly away. California responded only 30 seconds later. Ship, fed by Onumonu, put a weak shot on frame and Proctor blocked it without trouble. In the 51st minute, Racioppi dribbled past Boyd but missed the open net wide right.
That was the closest Duke would get to finding the equalizer. In the 59th minute, the Golden Bears crushed the Blue Devils’ hopes when junior Kelly Fitzgerald took a corner kick from the right flank. Ship pretended to attack the ball, but let the low cross continue its way toward the penalty kick, where Celeste Boureille fired a shot that hit the post. The bounce, however, ricocheted back off the head of Proctor—who dove to the turf to corral the shot—and wound up in the back of the net.
“There’s a lot of lessons to be learned from this,” Church said. “The most important one is how do we respond to it, what do we with this because we have to go on the road. [The team has] a tough trip coming up, so we have to be more engaged for 90 minutes.”
Even though the two-goal deficit was a hard punch to take for the Blue Devils, Church’s squad tried to make things interesting, but Boyd dealt with two shots from Payne and defender Kara Wilson connected on a header that came within inches of scoring with one minute left.
“I think this is an awesome time to lose a game, as silly as it might sound,” Racioppi said. “It’s [a] reality check. We are not going to go into every game and handle winning. That’s not what soccer is. Getting this loss now is a good preparation for what’s going to come in the ACC.”
Duke will hit the road this weekend before starting ACC action Sept. 24. Church’s squad visits Samford Friday and Louisiana State two days later.