A little more than a year removed from a dominant season-opening performance in Durham, the Blue Devils returned to their home turf ready to embark on yet another campaign.
And although last season it was an offensive eruption that led to victory, defense was crucial Sunday as the hosts overcame a slow start to control the latter part of the game.
After Drexel seized a 6-3 lead with 8:37 remaining in the first half, No. 10 Duke shut down the Dragons, holding the visiting side to just one goal in the final 38-plus minutes as the Blue Devils pulled out a 9-7 win at Koskinen Stadium. The Duke offense was led by a balanced scoring attack that featured three Blue Devils—junior Kyra Harney along with sophomores Olivia Jenner and Ellie Majure—each registering a pair of goals.
"We had great defensive possessions," Duke head coach Kerstin Kimel said. "Halftime gave us a chance to collect ourselves...Our defenders really locked down and I thought we made it tough for them to get the looks they were working for."
For the first 15 minutes, neither side seemed to grab control of the season opener. Although the Blue Devils (1-0) appeared to be dominating possession, they were unable to distance themselves. Duke had five shots in the first 10 minutes but was able to convert just once in that span.
But after the Dragons (0-1) buried three straight scores midway through the first half to open up a three-goal advantage, the Blue Devils knew they needed to settle down.
A pair of goals late in the first half from Harney and preseason All-ACC midfielder Maddie Crutchfield pulled the home team to within one at the break. Jenner then tied the contest just 21 seconds into the second half—her second tally of a strong outing for the Annapolis, Md., native.
Jenner posted the most dominant season in the faceoff circle in Duke history last year, winning 110 draw controls, and the 5-foot-10 attacker was right back at it in her 2017 debut. The Blue Devils collected 13 of 18 draw controls on the afternoon, with Jenner picking up five, which helped the home side set the tone in terms of possession.
"We were trying to push tempo with the shot clock and not having a lot of success," Kimel said. "You can't let it rush you. You have to get yourself organized in your offense which is what we did a better job of in the second half and got some looks that we wanted."
Jamie Lockwood made the start for the Blue Devils in goal, replacing four-year starter Kelsey Duryea after the longtime goalie graduated in May. Lockwood, a sophomore, struggled to get her footing in the early going—she made just two appearances last season, playing 8:40 and surrendering three goals without registering a single save.
Although Drexel exploited the inexperienced netminder during the first third of the contest, the Richmond, Va., native eventually found her way, finishing the game with seven saves on 19 Dragon shots.
"Jamie will be the first person to tell you she gave up a couple of soft goals," Kimel said. "When you have a new goalie, I think every game is going to be a learning experience and what our defense did a better job of in the second half was putting her in a position where she could make saves."
As Lockwood and the defense picked up intensity, Harney gave Duke the lead back at 7-6 with 24:40 left in the contest, then Majure extended the advantage a little more than 10 minutes later. After Maggie Stetson brought the visitors within one with more than 12 minutes remaining, Lockwood and company took advantage of rushed Dragon possessions late in its first game utilizing a 90-second shot clock and got an insurance goal from Jessie Ambrose to seal the victory.
With Duke averaging 10.8 goals scored per game last season, including 46 in their first three contest, the Blue Devil offense will have work to do, especially with two games in less than 48 hours next weekend. Duke hosts Furman Friday afternoon before an early 11 a.m. start against Navy next Sunday.
"We were able to beat them in transition, cause some turnovers in the ride [later in the game]," Kimel said. "That's something that we're capable of doing and we did a better job with in the second half."
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A junior from just outside Philadelphia, Mitchell is probably reminding you how the Eagles won the Super Bowl this year and that the Phillies are definitely on the rebound. Outside of The Chronicle, he majors in Economics, minors in Statistics and is working toward the PJMS certificate, in addition to playing trombone in the Duke University Marching Band. And if you're getting him a sandwich with beef and cheese outside the state of Pennsylvania, you best not call it a "Philly cheesesteak."