With 12 straight ranked opponents on tap, Duke knew it had to get off to a strong start to keep another shot at NCAA tournament redemption in sight.
Behind the lead of its impressive senior class, the Blue Devils did just that, scoring two goals in the first 17 minutes to take control from the beginning. After that, there was no letting up defensively.
No. 2 Duke dominated play throughout a 2-0 victory against No. 6 Maryland Friday evening in its first match of the Big Ten/ACC Cup at Spooky Nook Sports in Lancaster, Pa. Seniors Ashley Kristen and Ainsley Gill found the back of the net, and redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Sammi Steele had to make just two saves for her second shutout in two games. The Blue Devils held a 20-3 edge in shots and took eight corners as they controlled play throughout.
“I’m really proud of the fact that we’ve got a senior group that have really worked their way to this position,” Duke head coach Pam Bustin told GoDuke.com. “It’s not just them. It’s the whole team following. But to have that experience and four years of training has brought us to this point.”
The Blue Devils came out fast, with star back Alyssa Chillano emerging from the pack for a breakaway. After Chillano’s initial shot was saved, Kristen was there in front, cleaning up the rebound for her second goal of the season.
Although Duke (2-0) could have taken its foot off the gas pedal and settled back on defense with a one-goal lead, it continued to push forward, keeping play largely in the Terrapins’ end of the field. After back-and-forth play, the Blue Devils won a penalty corner taken by sophomore midfielder Margaux Paolino, whose attempt ended up finding the stick of Chillano once again. Chillano wound up for a big drive from the top of the circle, which snuck by Maryland goalkeeper Sarah Holliday after a redirection from Gill.
“[Kristen and Gill] are really proud of their roles and they really take them seriously, and they take responsibility for it,” Bustin said. “These guys have worked really hard that when it’s their time to step up, that they have the confidence to do it because they’ve done the work.”
Instead of sitting back after the second tally and letting the Terrapins (1-1) bring the ball into their end, the Blue Devils continued to enforce their pace of play. Using a high-pressure defense, Duke wreaked havoc in transition, not allowing Maryland to fall into the pace of the game.
The Terrapins did not attempt a shot on goal until nearly 25 minutes of gameplay had passed, when they used a corner opportunity—their only one of the game—to get forward Linnea Gonzales some room, but she missed wide of the net. From there, the Blue Devils fell back into their defensive structure to limit Maryland.
“[I am] so impressed with the entire team effort on the defensive side because I think they want the ball so much that everyone’s working together to try to give ourselves an opportunity to retrieve the ball higher on the field, and it worked tonight,” Bustin said.
In the second half, Duke continued to keep Maryland’s scoring chances down while continually putting pressure on its backline. If it were not for Holliday—who made 13 saves—the score would have been much more lopsided, as four Blue Devils registered multiple shots on net.
Duke does not have much time to rest before playing No. 14 Northwestern Sunday at 11 a.m. in its final contest of the tournament after the Wildcats dropped a thrilling double-overtime match against No. 12 Boston College to start the weekend.
The Blue Devils know that despite a strong performance, they still have room to improve, particularly when it comes to converting its scoring chances.
“We definitely need to regroup and rest. We expended a lot of energy tonight, which was good, and hopefully bring that same energy back,” Bustin said. “We had more goal-scoring opportunities. [Holliday] played great in the second half, and for us when we see another great goalkeeper, [we need] to make sure that we take care of the details at the end.”
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