Coming off their worst season in 20 years, the Blue Devils sorely needed to make a statement in their season opener.
They did that, as well as plenty more.
No. 19 Duke put the nightmare of last season to bed in a dominant 17-9 victory against Elon at Cohan Turf Fields adjacent to its usual home at Koskinen Stadium Sunday afternoon. The Blue Devils were unfazed despite the change, which was due to the weather conditions affecting Koskinen’s grass field.
Senior captains Maddie Crutchfield and Grace Fallon led the charge with five points apiece, while sophomore netminder Gabbe Cadoux proved unflappable between the pipes with 10 saves.
“We’ve just worked really hard to try to put together a game like we did today,” Duke head coach Kerstin Kimel said. “To be able to be really solid defensively, to be a threat out of transition, and to execute offensively, I’m very pleased with our first outing.”
The Blue Devils (1-0) came out hot from the start playing on one of their practice fields. After Crutchfield found the back of the net for the team’s first goal of the season, Duke went on a run, opening up a 4-1 lead less than 10 minutes into the contest. By halftime, the Blue Devils were up 11-3, forcing the Phoenix to replace freshman goalkeeper Allie Cerrone, who got off to a rough start in her Elon debut with just one save in the first half.
Entering the season with just senior Anne Slusser as the lone holdover from last season’s starting group, Duke’s new-look defense provided the jolt needed for the first-half dominance.
After the Blue Devils’ first offensive possession— which proved unfruitful— Elon (0-1) emerged with its first attacking opportunity of the game after a Fallon turnover. However, the Phoenix could not get any good shots off on the ensuing possession as Duke forced a shot clock violation, energizing the unit.
“That is exactly what we’ve been looking for,” Cadoux said. “When we can force that and did such a good job with it, it’s such a game starter for the defense and the midfield.”
Due to her efforts on the draw, junior attack Olivia Jenner helped keep the offense rolling throughout the first half. After finishing 10th in the nation in draw controls per game last year, Jenner got into an early-contest rhythm as she finished with a game-high nine draw controls. In just the first half, the Blue Devils won 12 of 15 draws, and Crutchfield and freshman midfielder Catriona Barry also pitched in with multiple controls.
Duke’s captains—Crutchfield, Fallon and senior attacker Kyra Harney—especially benefitted from Jenner’s efforts on the draw. The trio combined for 12 points, and just as importantly commanded the flow of the offense, which was able to get into its sets early in the shot clock. In turn, the Blue Devils were able to pepper Elon’s goalkeepers with 24 shots on goal.
“[The captains] all played like seniors today, which is awesome,” Kimel said. “We’re asking them to play out there with a lot of young kids, and I think they do a great job of communicating and distributing the ball.”
Kimel decided to start three freshmen—Barry, defender Gigi Vasile and midfielder Charlotte North—while bringing in a slew of their classmates as the game progressed. North shined, scoring three goals in her collegiate debut, while Vasile worked on the other end to shut down senior attack Nicole Sinacori, who finished with just two shots after ripping 26 goals last season, good for second on the Phoenix.
Duke seemingly went on cruise control toward the end of the game, though, allowing four of the contest’s final six goals. For Elon, attack Stephanie Asher led the charge with five goals and an assist, though she had just two goals before the last seven minutes of the game.
The Blue Devils will have nearly a week off before facing Campbell and No. 9 Northwestern next weekend at Koskinen.
“This is the field that we’ve been working hard on for so long for months. It’s unfortunate that we couldn’t play in Koskinen, but it’s going to be there all season,” Cadoux said. “We have a lot of home games, and it’s just really nice to be able to dominate on a field you’ve been working so hard on.”
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