For 63 minutes Sunday, Duke’s second dream-like regular season in a row seemed destined to carry over into the postseason. But in the span of two minutes, the Blue Devils saw their stellar game get upended, and their season ended, in an eerily similar finish to their nightmarish season-ending loss a year ago.
No. 2 seed Duke was eliminated from the NCAA tournament by Maryland Sunday afternoon at Jack Katz Stadium, falling 3-2 in the quarterfinals to a lower-ranked team at home for the second year in a row. The Terrapins came back from a 2-1 deficit within the last 10 minutes of the game to shock the Blue Devils, who had won four in a row against their former ACC rivals, including a 2-0 victory this year in the B1G/ACC Cup.
“This season was incredible. We have one of the toughest schedules in the country, and we play these kind of games every weekend. This team finds a way, they find a way to improve, they find a way to get it done. I couldn’t be more proud of what kind of team this is,” Duke head coach Pam Bustin said. “That’s why this is so incredibly disappointing, incredibly disappointing for the seniors who have invested their four years to give themselves this opportunity.”
The Blue Devils (17-4) jumped out to an early lead on a beautiful backhand from junior Rose Tynan, who corralled the ball in front of the net and drove it past Terrapin goalkeeper Sarah Holliday. Duke’s defense was effective in cutting off Maryland’s passing lanes for much of the game, but particularly in the first half, as the Terrapins’ lone shot in the first 20 minutes of the game came on a corner.
But despite their solid play, the Blue Devils were not immune to mistakes, and with less than 10 minutes remaining in the first half, their defense finally cracked. Madison Maguire intercepted a pass just outside the circle on the Duke end of the field and directed the ball to Kyler Greenwalt, who finished the assist to tie the game at one apiece.
In the second half, the momentum seemed to swing back to the Blue Devils, who retook the lead just minutes into the final period. Senior Ashley Kristen, fighting to keep her career alive, took a feed from Ainsley Gill just outside the cage on the left side, spun and beat Holliday for her second goal of the tournament.
Duke kept up its defensive intensity for much of the game after retaking the lead, keeping Maryland (15-6) away from the net and maintaining its activity on the offensive end. However, keeping a team that finished in the top 20 in the nation in scoring average at 2.8 goals per game is not easy, and the one-goal lead would prove to be too little.
“[Maryland] changed it up a little, put a lot more pressure on. We were prepared for the pressure, I just think in succession we were just not quick enough to adjust defensively,” Bustin said. “Once there was a turnover, they took advantage of it and we just weren’t set up quick enough.”
With less than seven minutes to go, the Terrapins earned a penalty corner that was taken by senior Lein Holsboer. She fed the ball to Brooke Adler, who in turn set up Bodil Keus for the equalizing goal.
“We have to take advantage of the many opportunities we had in the circle and take away theirs. They’ve got a great drag flicker in [Keus], and she got it on point to even up the score,” Bustin said. “That [changed] the vibe of it a little bit.”
Once Keus tied the game, the momentum was firmly in Maryland’s grasp. Barely two minutes later, the Terrapins took the lead for good after another assist from Holsboer, this time to Linnea Gonzales. After Holsboer made a nice run down to the end line, she found Gonzales just inside the circle, making a perfect feed so the first-team All-Big Ten honoree could flip it above the outstretched arms of Duke goalie Sammi Steele.
“It was a strong fight for both teams and we fought it out to the end. We just needed to come together a bit more and be stronger at the end,” Kristen said. “But I’m grateful to do it with a team like Duke, and a coaching staff like Duke, and it’s just unfortunate, and it hurts a lot because I know we have the skills and the talent and the grit to really be able to go farther.”
The heaviest hearts on the Blue Devil sideline were those of the six graduating seniors, including Kristen. In their time at Duke, they accomplished two of the most impressive regular seasons the program has ever seen, yet could not get over the hump in the postseason.
With the loss, Kristen ends her reign as the active team leader in career points with 86. The Vancouver native and her senior classmates—Sarah Furey, Ainsley Gill, Stephanie Pezzuti, Alexa Mackintire and Alyssa Chillano—posted a 60-22 record in their careers, including just eight losses in their final two years in Durham.
“The senior class is a very close class. I’m grateful to have such good friends going through all the four years,” Kristen said. “That’s what makes [losing] so tough—playing with your best friends and being so lucky to have such great people to play with. We definitely thought it was going to be our year. We put everything we had on the field.”
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