In the two weeks since Duke had last played at Koskinen Stadium—against Boston College in the ACC quarterfinals—it became a completely different season. The trees that had been green surrounding the stadium had changed into their amber colors, and the warm temperatures had dropped into the 30s.
But a constant? The Blue Devils remaining perfect—now 12-0—at home this season.
Thanks to an Imani Dorsey goal in the 69th minute, top-seeded Duke knocked out UNC Greensboro 1-0 Saturday evening at Koskinen Stadium in the first round of the NCAA tournament, advancing to face Oklahoma State in next weekend's Round of 32. If the Blue Devils win, they will face the winner of Clemson and fourth-seeded Texas, with all of their games until the Final Four taking place at home.
“With that defense, it’s going to take a moment of brilliance,” Duke head coach Robbie Church said. “[Imani] looked like a senior who didn’t want her career to end.”
Dorsey scored on a shot she took from just outside the 18-yard box. Earlier in the game, she had several opportunities to either score or assist that did not come to fruition.
In the 34th minute, Ella Stevens threaded the Spartan defense, but Dorsey could not find the far side of the goal, which UNC Greensboro goalkeeper Aiyana Tyler-Cooper left open. Instead, Dorsey shot the ball to the near post on that play and it went wide, hitting the outside of the netting.
In the 69th minute, Dorsey again shot to the right side of the goal. She was balanced when she took the shot this time, though, and she used the inside of her right foot to place her shot perfectly. It went just past the outstretched arms of Tyler-Cooper and tucked into the side netting.
“I saw an opportunity to run at them, catch them on their toes on the counterattack,” Dorsey said. “Initially I thought Ella was going to pick the ball off, but it kind of missed her foot a little bit.”
Still, it would be difficult to say the Blue Devils (20-2-0) played as well as they might have liked. Church said the Spartans put 10 defenders behind the ball, meaning UNC-Greensboro (11-8-3) essentially had all its players on defense.
That conservative mindset resulted in the Spartans never seriously attacking Duke. UNC Greensboro appeared to be hoping it could keep Duke scoreless and pull a massive upset in penalty kicks.
Duke stymied any chance the Spartans had of getting the ball up the field—they had one corner kick and one shot, but never had any threatening opportunities.
The same could be said about the Blue Devils for much of the game. They struggled getting past the Spartan defense that averaged 1.1 goals against entering the day. The Blue Devils settled for shots outside the box and finished with 31 shots and 10 shots on goal.
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“I was getting frustrated when we would settle to try to jam the ball through the middle of their back line when we could get the ball out wide and swing the ball out wide and try to move them the way we wanted to,” Dorsey said. ““The best thing, like we did today, is just move the ball around as much as we can.”
Part of the reason Duke has been so much more successful than last year has been its ability to finish better in the last third of the field, with the help of one of the top midfielders in the country. In 2016, the team did not have Rebecca Quinn, who was sidelined with an injury, and Quinn missed Saturday’s game as well as the ACC semifinals and finals to start for the Canadian national team’s friendlies against the U.S. for the last two weekends.
The Olympic bronze medalist will be back with the Blue Devils next weekend.
“She’s an amazing player and a midfielder who knows how to connect a back line to a front line,” Dorsey said. “Having her in there, we just become such a fluid team.”