For the second time in three years, the Blue Devils are headed to the Final Four.
Playing its second straight single-elimination matchup, Duke avenged another regular season loss. After defeating No. 13 Stanford in overtime to advance past the Round of 16 Saturday, the No. 6 Blue Devils booked a ticket to the Final Four with a 2-1 win against No. 3 Virginia—a team that had beaten Duke twice earlier in the year.
Just 10 days after falling at the hands of the Cavaliers in ACC tournament play, Duke scored the game-winner with four minutes remaining in the first half to defeat Virginia on its own blue turf at the University Hall Turf Field in Charlottesville, Va. Senior Amanda Kim took a pass from sophomore Alyssa Chillano in the 32nd minute and deposited it in the back of the cage, and the Blue Devils never looked back, surviving a scoreless second half to advance.
“We were just chopping at them and chopping at them, and we knew that they were not going to beat us for a third time,” Kim told GoDuke.com. “We came out and we played Duke field hockey.”
Junior Heather Morris—Duke’s leading scorer with 10 goals to accompany four assists—led the offense one day after the Blue Devils were shut out through regulation against the Cardinal. Morris picked up a goal just more than eight minutes into the match to kickstart the scoring.
The Cavaliers (15-6) did not give up without a fight, however, tallying eight second-half shots and forcing goalkeeper Lauren Blazing to make three difficult second-half saves.
“Of course, Lauren Blazing had some key saves in key, key moments,” Duke head coach Pam Bustin told GoDuke.com. “That’s what you hope to get from a fifth-year senior goalkeeper with the experience she has.”
Blazing may have come up big in essential moments for the Blue Devils (14-6), but the team also played stout defense that often kept Virginia attacks from reaching the goal. Bustin credited her offense with shutting down passing angles at the front that stopped attacks early and made the job of the defense much simpler.
“I thought, together, our team defense was outstanding,” Bustin said. “From the forward lines playing good lines and putting pressure from behind, to our backfield just playing it simple and just stepping up for interceptions, it was really outstanding.”
In 2013, Duke advanced all the way to the national championship game before falling to Connecticut. The Huskies will return to the season’s final weekend again this year, creating the possibility of a rematch if both teams advance to the title game.
To get to this point, the Blue Devils have scheduled a litany of tough opponents, playing 12 top-15 teams in just 20 games. This stretch of difficult matchups—the toughest schedule in the country—helped prepare the Blue Devils for the quarterfinal matchup.
After falling to the Cavaliers 4-2 in September and 5-1 Nov. 6, Duke knew that one goal would likely not be enough to ensure a victory. Sure enough, just three minutes after Morris’ goal gave Duke the early lead, Virginia’s Caleigh Foust beat Blazing on a fast break to even the score at 1-1.
“We have a saying—just next possession—and we just focused on that,” Kim said. “We finished one and then we went right back to it and kept playing.”
Although Duke is not necessarily senior-heavy—the roster has only five seniors on a team of 23—four seniors remain in the starting lineup and their experience in the pressure-filled environment of the NCAA tournament helped the Blue Devils keep their composure.
“I’m so proud of the seniors’ leadership and for them stepping up in these big games—they’ve been in these games before—and they trusted that, and they led the rest to a great game today against a really talented and dangerous Virginia team,” Bustin said.
With the victory, the Blue Devils will advance to the semifinals of the NCAA tournament in Ann Arbor, Mich., Friday. They will be traveling 650 miles for a matchup against arch rival North Carolina, who resides just eight miles down Tobacco Road. North Carolina is the second-seeded team in the tournament and defeated Duke 2-1 Oct. 16 in Chapel Hill in the teams’ lone meeting of the regular season.
“For the last 10 days, it’s been awesome,” Bustin said. “We look forward to making our Duke family and alums proud as we go to Michigan.”