After suffering a humbling loss to Elon Thursday evening, the Blue Devils regrouped with a big win Sunday to get back on track with their first win of the year against a ranked opponent and first victory since Feb. 12.
Behind hat tricks from seniors Kelci Smesko and Maddy Acton, No. 12 Duke doubled up No. 16 Pennsylvania 12-6 at Koskinen Stadium Sunday afternoon, as the young Blue Devils finally ignited on the attack to claim their first win against a ranked opponent this season. Prolonged scoring droughts plagued Duke in losses to Southern California and the Phoenix, but the Blue Devils scored in bunches against the Quakers, including three goals in less than five minutes to grab the lead for good midway through the first half.
“Today was a big step forward,” Duke head coach Kerstin Kimel said. “We didn’t have any kind of residual hangover from the loss on Thursday…. We played really hard today and I’m really proud of this group.”
Pennsylvania (1-1) jumped out to a quick 2-1 lead, but the Blue Devils (2-2) were quick to recover. Smesko fired a free position shot to knot the game at two, then set up freshman Ellie Majure for her first career tally with 19:16 left in the first half, giving Duke a 3-2 lead it would never relinquish.
“It’s not unusual for the beginning to be one up [or] one down,” Smesko said. “Having a young offense, we weren’t scared or nervous when we started down. We just came out and executed the plays we were supposed to and I think that was the difference.”
Duke continued to pressure the Pennsylvania defense, closing the half on a 6-2 run to head into the locker room with a 7-4 lead. Five Blue Devils scored in the first half, with Smesko and midfielder Maddy Acton each finding the net twice. Both of Acton’s goals were unassisted, including a shot that the Sudbury, Mass., native slipped past Quaker goalkeeper Britt Brown with one second left before intermission.
Draw controls and turnovers had been a weak point for the young Blue Devil offense early on this season, but Kimel’s squad enjoyed a 9-3 advantage on draws and 10-8 edge on ground balls in the first 30 minutes Sunday. Despite committing six turnovers of their own, Duke forced the Quakers into seven costly giveaways before halftime.
The second half got off to a slower start, with neither team finding the net until Pennsylvania attacker Iris Williamson cut the Blue Devil lead to 7-5 with 22:21 left for her third goal of the contest and just her fourth of the season. Williamson quickly found the net once again just 65 seconds later to pull her team within a score.
“We put Claire Scarrone on [Williamson]. [Scarrone] is one of our top defensive players,” Kimel said. “Even though [Willliamson] ended up with four goals—it’s a team effort—but I thought Claire herself did a really great job with her. Overall, I think we did a really good job of limiting them.”
Duke goalkeeper Kelsey Duryea picked up a crucial save of another Williamson shot—her fifth stop of the afternoon—to put the ball back in the Blue Devils’ possession and keep the Quakers from building its momentum even further. A few turnovers allowed Pennsylvania to control much of the second period, but the defense—bolstered by Duryea—kept the Quakers scoreless the rest of the way.
On the other end, Acton capitalized on a ground ball pick-up by Scarrone to record another a goal, and extended the Duke lead to two with just more than 10 minutes remaining with her fourth score of the game.
“When our defense makes a great stand, that gives us energy to go forward and execute on attack. And when we score great goals, the defense is behind us cheering us on,” Acton said. “That’s something that’s really important and crucial to our team chemistry this year—the support between offense and attack units.”
The Blue Devils scored five unanswered goals to create breathing room after Williamson’s pair of tallies. Attacker Hayley Shaffer added two tallies and sophomore Kyra Harney and Smesko each posted another goal. Smesko’s final strike with 4:54 brought the senior’s goal total to a team-high 15.
The Blue Devils will have the week off from game competition before heading to Thompson Field to face Virginia Tech—their first ACC foe—Saturday in Blacksburg, Va., at 1 p.m.