After a tough 2016-17 season, the Blue Devils have been fighting to prove that last year is well behind them.
But with this year’s early matchups showing a sometimes similar up-and-down trend, Duke will need to tighten up its play if it wants to leave the past behind it.
The No. 16 Blue Devils wrapped up a mixed weekend at home at Koskinen Stadium. After starting with an upset 15-5 loss to 25th-ranked Stanford Friday, Duke bounced back with a crushing 21-13 win against Boston University Sunday. Although Duke’s defense was all over the place, the Blue Devils found a consistent offensive threat in freshman phenom Charlotte North.
“We had a really rough result and an unexpected performance on Friday, especially from an offensive standpoint,” Duke head coach Kerstin Kimel said Sunday. “We didn't finish our shots well and we didn't create good offense for ourselves. Today, with one day of preparation, our guys did a really good job of getting a new game plan together within a day and then coming out and executing it and shooting it really well.”
In the Blue Devils' disappointing loss to Stanford (2-2), Duke struggled to control the Cardinal’s fast-break moves in transition.
In the first period, Stanford found holes all over Duke’s normally stringent defense. Echoing the Blue Devils’ woes in the backfield from last year, the Cardinal outscored Duke by a whopping 10-2 margin in the first 30 minutes. Although North contributed a hat trick by the end of the contest, the Blue Devils felt almost no offensive chemistry, finishing with just three scorers and no assists.
Although Stanford committed 18 turnovers, Duke could not withstand the Cardinal’s rushes off the draw. Stanford took over the draw 14-8 and outshot the Blue Devils 36-24 while also out-saving Duke 12-10—a recipe for disaster for any chance of the Blue Devils coming out ahead.
“We really did not play well on Friday,” Kimel said. “To Stanford's credit, I thought they were excellent. They were ready to go and super sharp and we just weren't. For us, we're a young team and our goal has got to be for one day at a time to get better and to continue to create an environment in practice where we are challenged and pushed like we are on this field.”
But after a humiliating defeat on its home field, Duke (4-2) was out for blood for the second matchup of the weekend.
From the outset Sunday, the Blue Devils turned on the jets, with senior Grace Fallon putting Duke up early with a goal in the first minute of play. Just more than a minute later, senior Maddie Crutchfield wrapped around the Terriers' goalpost and delivered a rocket right between Boston’s Bianca Smith.
Smith was subbed out after just seven minutes of play and made just one save, as the Blue Devils seized an easy 4-0 lead. Although Terriers Kelly Matthews and Bridget McCarthy tried to pull Boston back into the game, the Blue Devils’ effective draw and charge after each goal saw the Terriers still trailing 7-3.
But Duke wasn’t out of the woods yet, and the Blue Devils’ old defensive woes started to catch up with them.
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In the final 10 minutes of the first period, Boston (1-2) buckled down on defense, forcing key turnovers and driving the ball right back to the heart of Duke territory. With just seven minutes left before the half, Boston’s Kelly Matthews snagged the draw control and tossed to Ava Barry, who whipped around the Blue Devils’ back field to pull Boston within three.
Boston notched two more fast-break goals in the next three minutes thanks to efforts from Lexi Lewis and Kailey Conry, trimming Duke’s lead to just one. But with less than 10 seconds left in the half, North put the wind back in Duke's sails by charging through the Terriers’ back line for a goal, notching a hat trick in the process.
“Charlotte [North] is a superstar freshman,” junior Olivia Jenner said. “She has the ability and the courage to take the ball to the goal every single time and she has a wicked shot that she can finish with, so kudos to her for every game stepping up and taking those shots and making them.”
From there, the Blue Devils refused to look back.
In the second period, Duke outscored Boston 13-7, outshooting the Terriers 22-13 as well. Right out of the gates, Jenner caught fire, scoring three straight goals in four minutes to rebuild the Blue Devils’ lead. Jenner finished the match with 10 draw control—becoming Duke’s all-time career leader in that category. North contributed another four more goals in the second period to singlehandedly spearhead the Blue Devils’ offense, coming up with seven total goals for the afternoon—tying Duke’s record for goals in a single game.
By the end of the afternoon, three Blue Devils notched hat tricks, showcasing an offensive fire absent against Stanford. North has proven to be an offensive wrecking ball, with the Dallas native notching 25 goals so far this season.
“Charlotte is special,” Kimel said. “She did a really great job taking opportunities when they presented themselves in the sets we were running.”
Duke will return to action Saturday to kick off conference play against Louisville at home.
“BU was an awesome opponent, but we have a week where we only have one game, so we need to focus on ourselves,” Jenner said. “Louisville is an ACC opponent, so we need to come out of that winning."