Heading to upstate New York with 15 straight wins and a target on their back, the No. 4 Blue Devils knew they needed to come out strong.
And as has often been the case this season, striker Kayla McCoy provided the firepower for Duke, scoring two first-half goals to help her team avoid the dreaded trap game.
The Blue Devils extended their winning streak to 16 with a 2-0 victory against Syracuse at SU Soccer Stadium Sunday afternoon, resetting the program record for the eighth time this season and breaking the program record for most ACC wins in a single season.
Now, Duke is just one game away from closing regular-season conference play without a blemish and heading into the postseason without a loss since mid-August.
“Breaking school records is definitely an honor, and this team has worked really hard,” McCoy said. “It’s been really cool to see our hard work pay off, but this isn’t our end goal. Our end goal is to win championships, and we’re not there yet, so we’re just going to keep pushing towards that goal. Anything that comes along with it is awesome.”
The Blue Devils (16-1-0, 9-0-0 in the ACC) struck early, with McCoy’s first goal coming just 8:21 into the opening half. The Lincolnwood, Ill., native beat an Orange defender on the left flank and cut into the box with the ball on her left foot. She ripped a hard shot past Syracuse senior goalkeeper Courtney Brosnan—who entered the game sitting just eight saves shy of tying the Orange’s all-time saves record—and into the right-side netting of the goal from just outside the end line.
Duke retained possession and continued to force Syracuse (7-7-2, 2-5-1) into tough defensive positions, putting two shots on goal and earning two corner kicks in the 10 minutes after McCoy’s improbable goal. The junior then managed to pull through for the Blue Devils once more in the 29th minute, converting on a feed into the box from senior captain Imani Dorsey as she slid a low ball just inside the near post for her team-best 10th goal of the season.
“Kayla McCoy has had a wonderful, wonderful year for us,” head coach Robbie Church said. “She’s probably the best player in the country with her back to the goal. She scored a really, really pretty early goal here, but really the most important thing for us was finding that second goal. She does so much for us and she’s really finishing well.”
Duke generated multiple promising opportunities as the half came to a close, but none found the back of the net.
The Blue Devils failed to dominate possession in the second half the same way they did in the first, however, instead shifting attention from their potent offense to their stalwart defense. Duke’s back line held strong, allowing just two shots all afternoon and refusing the Orange any shots on goal.
With the win, the Blue Devils earned their 11th shutout of the year and their seventh in ACC play. Duke’s defense has surrendered just eight goals on the season for a 0.50 goals-against average—good for 16th in the nation. Combined with their ACC-leading shutout percentage with 62.5 percent of their opponents going scoreless and an NCAA-best winning percentage, the Blue Devils find themselves in a great position with the postseason on the horizon.
“Our back four has been great,” Church said. “They’re tough kids and they really played as one, but defense is everybody on the field. We’re willing to do a lot of things that other teams aren’t willing to do. Our forwards and midfielders work hard when we lose the ball.”
With just a top-15 matchup at Virginia standing between Duke and postseason play, the Blue Devils are beginning to circle back to some of their preseason goals, one of which was winning the ACC regular-season championship. Until this point, Duke and No. 5 North Carolina—which dealt the Blue Devils their sole loss of the season in overtime—have been neck-in-neck in the conference standings.
Duke got word that its Tobacco Road rival drew with Louisville just before kickoff in Syracuse, meaning Sunday's win propels the Blue Devils two points ahead of the Tar Heels in the standings for sole ownership of the top spot in the conference.
With a win against the Cavaliers Thursday, Duke will clinch the regular-season crown, a boost for its chances at a coveted No. 1 seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament.
“It’s huge that we get this last win,” McCoy said. “One of our team goals this year is just to win the regular season, so everyone is pretty focused on winning the next game.”
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