West Virginia shuts out Duke women's soccer in NCAA tournament quarterfinals

<p>Junior Imani Dorsey had one of Duke's best scoring chances on a header off a corner kick&nbsp;Saturday, but the shot&nbsp;hit the crossbar.</p>

Junior Imani Dorsey had one of Duke's best scoring chances on a header off a corner kick Saturday, but the shot hit the crossbar.

For Duke, it will be a season of what-ifs.

What if the Blue Devils had not lost three of their starters to injuries for the latter half of the season? What if junior Imani Dorsey’s second-half header traveled slightly lower? What if Ella Stevens’ shot that hit the inside of the crossbar was called a goal?

What if, oddly enough, Canada’s U20 soccer team had been more successful in Papua New Guinea last week?

Back for the first time in seven games after a first-round defeat with Canada in the U20 World Cup, West Virginia freshman goalkeeper Rylee Foster powered the top-seeded Mountaineers to a 1-0 Elite Eight victory against the third-seeded Blue Devils Saturday afternoon at Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium in Morgantown, W. Va. The loss ends Duke’s season and marks the fifth time in the past 10 years that the Blue Devils have fallen a game short of the national semifinals. 

After allowing a goal to midfielder Alli Magaletta in the 16th minute off a corner kick, the Blue Devils played tough second-half defense behind Lizzy Raben and Christina Gibbons—both of whose careers came to a close in a disappointing fashion. Duke finished the game with 17 shots to West Virginia’s 12 and 10 corner kicks to six for the Mountaineers, but as has been the case for much of the year, the Blue Devils struggled to execute on their opponent’s back third of the field.

“We had a couple we should have finished,” Duke head coach Robbie Church said at the postgame press conference. “Set plays [are] what can separate you.”

West Virginia (22-1-2) dominated the first half with nine shots and five corner kicks. The constant pressure applied by the Mountaineer offense and corner-kick opportunities foreshadowed the goal that was to come later, as West Virginia found second chances in the crowded box time and time again. 

Off the team’s fourth corner of the game, forward Michaela Abam served in a ball that teammate Kadeisha Buchanan got a head on. Junior defender Schuyler DeBree ball-watched for just a moment, and the ball found an unmarked Magaletta, who kicked it across her body from a few yards outside the goal and into the net.

Although Duke also trailed the Mountaineers in the first half of West Virginia's 3-1 victory in Durham earlier this season, the Blue Devils (15-5-3) could not find the same success on their own set pieces to get on the scoreboard this time around. Duke had trouble getting many good looks on corner kicks, as Dorsey, freshman Olivia Erlbeck and juniors Ashton Miller and Casey Martinez all took turns from the corner flag.

Miller’s only corner in the 53rd minute gave Duke one of its best chances of tying the game. The kick went straight onto the head of a crashing Dorsey, but the header hit the crossbar before ricocheting away.

After West Virginia controlled the first half, the Blue Devils responded with 45 minutes of their own excellence and played some of their best soccer of the year. Church dropped Gibbons back to defense and changed his formation from four defenders to three, thereby adding an additional attacker.

“I’m not sure I’ve seen a team more athletic, especially the back line,” Church said of the Mountaineers.

In the 68th minute, the Blue Devils came as close as the game itself allows to put a ball in the back of the net. After scoring in the team's opening game against Wofford on Aug. 19 by flicking the ball to herself in the box and finishing, Stevens pulled off a similar move.

But this time, her shot hit the inside of the crossbar and did not cross the goal line—or so said referee Mark Gorak. 

After the ball was quickly cleared off the back line, Church argued for a goal on the play, but to no avail.

The close call was ironic after Church had said before the exhibition opener that he did not want the newly-approved use of instant replays during his games in the season. A host would have to supply the system and both teams would have to agree to its use before the game.

“We’ve all been on both sides where maybe a judgment call has gone against us, and then we’ve been on sides where maybe a judgment call has gone for us,” he said. “That’s just maybe the old school in me, but it’s part of the game.”

Duke continued to control play afterwards but could not get by Foster, who finished with five saves. A win would have set up a matchup between the Blue Devils and in-state rival North Carolina—the alma mater of assistant coach Carla Overbeck. 

But after falling to Penn State 1-0 in the national championship a year ago and coming up short again Saturday, Duke will have to move on and look forward to next year, when it will return eight of 11 starters in addition to the trio of Rebecca Quinn, Taylor Racioppi and Kayla McCoy.

“We were pushing to the very last second,” Church said. “It’s a really hard group to let go.”


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