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Duke women's soccer returns to NCAA tournament quarterfinals with 1-0 shutout against Northwestern

<p>Freshman Ella Stevens’ second NCAA tournament goal sent the Blue Devils to their seventh quarterfinal in 10 years.</p>

Freshman Ella Stevens’ second NCAA tournament goal sent the Blue Devils to their seventh quarterfinal in 10 years.

With the game tied 0-0 on a bitter November afternoon, Ella Stevens performed a fairly nondramatic act. She took off her gloves with about 20 minutes left in the first half.

Just a few minutes later, the freshman continued her hot postseason with her second goal in three NCAA tournament games, a finish to an awkward sequence of shots by the Blue Devils that would hold up as the contest’s only goal.

“It was the gloves,” Stevens joked.

Stevens’ goal gave Duke all the offense it needed against the nation’s top-ranked defense as the third-seeded Blue Devils beat Northwestern 1-0 Sunday at Koskinen Stadium in the NCAA tournament Round of 16. Duke outshot the Wildcats 22-2 and dominated play for the third straight game, setting up a date with top-seeded West Virginia next weekend in Morgantown, W. Va., in the Blue Devils’ seventh quarterfinal appearance in 10 years.

“We locked them in, we didn’t give them anything,” Duke head coach Robbie Church said. “We weren’t as sharp as we’ve been the whole time in front of the goal…. [But] we kept them in their half of the field for the most part.”

Senior Christina Gibbons—playing what would ultimately amount to her 42nd and final home game of her career—set up the goal with a shot in the box that Northwestern goalkeeper Lauren Clem saved. Off the rebound, junior Imani Dorsey crossed the ball back into the box, and though Flem went off her line to clear the ball, the rebound went right to Stevens.

The Grayson, Ga., native flicked the ball over Flem and into an open net for the score, the seventh goal the Wildcats have allowed all year. It also marked her team-leading 10th goal of the season, which is tied for second in program history among freshmen.

“She’s really come into her own,” Gibbons said. “She’s a goal scorer, she finds ways to finish. It wasn’t the prettiest thing you’ve ever seen, but she gets it done.”

Stevens went down with an injury going for the ball late in the first half, and she limped off the field before coming back in the second half and again leaving the game. Church said the injury is not serious.

Without her, Duke (15-4-3) managed just fine by holding the Wildcats to few scoring chances for most of the contest. Northwestern (16-3-4) tried scoring from its back line, hoping to capitalize on the counterattack.

Instead, defenders like Gibbons, Lizzy Raben and Schuyler DeBree took control and refused to turn the ball over on their side of the midfield line.

“That was all the defense just being really organized so that way when the ball came out, we could be first to win it,” Raben said. “We talked about that before the game, that we expected to have a lot of possession and that their chances would come off counterattacks.”

The Wildcats nearly scored in the 74th minute, off one of their 12 free kicks during the game. Mary Erikson—taking the kick from almost 40 yards out—sent a ball into the box that skipped by both the Blue Devils and the Wildcats.

The free kick wound up hitting the back post, taking a friendly Duke roll away from the goal before the Blue Devil back line cleared it.

Northwestern applied an increasing amount of pressure in the last 15 minutes, but Duke ran out the clock to send the co-Big Ten champions home after the Wildcats’ farthest postseason run since 1998.

Up next for the Blue Devils is a familiar foe in West Virginia. The Mountaineers downed Duke 3-1 in Durham Sept. 9 and secured a trip to the Elite Eight with a win on a snow-covered field against UCLA Sunday.

Expect Stevens to bring her gloves.

“[Am I] cold? Not at this stage, not when you go to the Elite Eight,” Church said. “[It] may be colder next week.”


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