If there were any questions about this team, Duke put them to rest three minutes in.
Unlike last year’s highly-touted group, which lost to Florida State in the ACC quarterfinals, the No. 4 Blue Devils opened a two-goal lead and knocked off the No. 16 Seminoles 2-0 at Koskinen Stadium. Ella Stevens set the tone with a left-footed volley off a cross from Imani Dorsey, who then scored her ninth goal of the season in the 22nd minute, to no one’s surprise.
And just like that, Duke has now won 13 games in a row.
“Robbie was like, ‘Out of all the goals we’ve scored, I think only one had come from the first 15 minutes,’” Dorsey said. “And so he was like, ‘I want one in the first 15 minutes,’ and we were like, ‘Okay!’ So we were high-pressing.”
But Stevens’ goal did come as a surprise to both the opponent and some on her own team. Someone on the bench said she thought the ball was going wide.
Dorsey crossed the ball from the left side of the field to an oncoming Stevens. In the middle of the box, the sophomore volleyed it with her left foot across her body, sneaking past standout goalkeeper Cassie Miller off the inside of the right post.
“We’ve been focusing on getting the ball end-line and getting it across. We think we’re dangerous that way,” Stevens said. “Especially late in the game or in the middle of the game, a lot of us are tired, and Imani is so fast that only one of us is in the box.... I think we had two, maybe three people.”
After the goal, Stevens and assistant coach Carla Overbeck dabbed together, something the former national team captain has been reluctant to do this year. But she promised Stevens at the beginning of the game she would dab if she scored.
“My daughter was like, ‘Mom, don’t ever do that again,’” Overbeck said. “So Ella said, ‘If I score a goal, let’s do it.’”
If getting a one-goal lead against Florida State is dab-worthy, bear in mind the Seminoles (9-3-0, 4-2-0 in the ACC) had not trailed any game by two goals in almost two years—since the 2015 national semifinals against Duke. The Blue Devils (13-1-0, 6-0-0) scored again, though, just 19 minutes later.
Dorsey had the ball close to midfield, dribbled around a defender, carried the ball and fed Kayla McCoy. McCoy then took a shot from inside the box on the left side, which Miller bobbled for just a second.
Almost like a give-and-go, Dorsey did not give up on the play, taking the rebound nearly from Miller’s hands and booting a shot into the top netting of the goal.
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“The thing about our goal was we were able to build from the back and then keep composure going forward, so that Kayla was able to break the line and get a good shot off,” Dorsey said.
Asked if she was feeling 100 percent during the game, Dorsey—who is dealing with a lingering muscle injury on her left thigh—said, “If I get a goal, I will say I’m at 100 percent.”
But the lefty, who stayed after the game to sign shorts, t-shirts and mini game balls for several children, added that the recovery has been difficult and frustrating. Church said that a full recovery would require six to eight weeks off, by which point the season would be over.
She looked fairly close to 100 percent during the game, though she did not outrun defenders quite the way she has in other games.
“She has to have treatment on that, probably from now to the rest of the season, so her status is kind of iffy every game,” Church said. “She’s the one that’s going to make the decision how she feels and how long she can go with it.”
On the back line, Duke held firm, giving the Seminoles few legitimate scoring opportunities. The Blue Devils stayed aggressive and drew three yellow cards—given to Ashton Miller, Taylor Mitchell and goalkeeper EJ Proctor for creeping outside the penalty box to seize a loose ball. Duke’s defense also blocked a number of shots taken inside the penalty box.
Although the final game sheet listed the weather as “partly sunny,” it was anything but after the first few minutes, raining for parts and staying cloudy for the rest. In that way, the weather was similar to the chances that Florida State had, slimming throughout and improving late in the second half with a few shots near target.
With the Seminoles heading back to the Sunshine State, Church said the Blue Devils will get a rare Fall Break for the next two days before playing their last regular-season home game next Sunday against Miami.
But Duke will almost certainly play more home games in the postseason, as it is tied for first in the ACC with a 6-0 record and has an RPI ranked in the top four in the nation.