After a hard-fought tie against Georgetown on Thursday, the Blue Devils were eager to break out of a two-game offensive slump.
No. 11 Duke did just that Sunday, showing the potential of its young and hungry team with a 3-0 win and second-half domination over Elon at Koskinen Stadium.
The first half was riddled with missed opportunities for both teams, however, as they combined for 16 shots and only one goal.
“Last year we had seven players that were four-year starters for us, and they played with each other for four years,” head coach Robbie Church said. “They read off each other much better. Now we’re still learning the movements, angles and passing.”
With nine shots in the first half–four of them on goal–Duke’s inexperience with some of its younger players was evident. Freshman Marykate McGuire had a chance to score early with a shot right in front of the goalie, but the Blue Devil’s shot went right into the hands of Elon netminder Valentina Estrada.
Church’s squad had another chance to score early in the first 15 minutes of the game with a Phoenix defender mistiming a header to gift Duke the ball in Elon territory. After failing to get a shot off, the Blue Devils rocketed the ball wide.
“We’re still learning to play with each other,” Church said. “There are a couple of things that have to be there on a regular basis…. For us it’s possession, keeping the ball, working off the ball, creating angles for us…. We’re still looking for the right mix of players in the right positions.
“Be willing to run at players… being aggressive, not being scared to lose balls and turn balls over at different part of the field.”
Church added that while the team has gotten better, they’re not where they want them to be.
Duke (2-1-1) continued to have good looks and passes inside the box but failed to capitalize until an Elon blunder led to the Blue Devils finally finding the back of the net.
A deep ball from sophomore Taylor Mitchell to senior forward Kayla McCoy led to a Blue Devil goal in the 34th minute of the game. A miscommunication gave McCoy the window to dribble left past the keeper, and buried the ball in the wide-open net.
“It wasn’t a pretty goal or anything special, but it was just nice to see the ball go in the back of the net,” McCoy said. “It’s a little bit of a relief, and now I can move on to the next game.”
Backed up by junior Ella Stevens, McCoy also assisted in Duke’s second successful run at the net with 20 minutes left to go. The ball was passed to freshman midfielder Mackenzie Pluck, who grounded it into the lower right side of the net to put the Blue Devils ahead by two.
McGuire proved to be a vital part of the Duke offense against the Phoenix (1-1-2) with four of Duke’s seven shots on goal in the game, despite some early missed opportunities. The Portsmouth, R.I., native was finally able to capitalize with eight minutes left after striking the ball into the upper right-hand part of the net.
While the first half showed Duke’s inconsistency–the Blue Devils allowed seven shots total and three shots on goal–the second half showcased the home team’s hustle and control. Duke did not allow any more shots on goal, with Elon only having two shots the entirety of the second half. On the offensive end, the Blue Devils added seven shots and two goals in the latter half of the game, including a first career goal for McGuire.
“In the second half, we played much better,” Church said. “We picked up our intensity, our focus, our attacking… We were able to have an aggressive mindset…. We showed more composure in the second half. Both the two last goals were very composed.”
The impressive defense that Duke displayed against the Hoyas Thursday could be seen throughout Sunday’s game as well. Multiple blocks by Duke’s defense in the first half kept Elon from scoring despite bringing the crowd to their feet shouting for a hand ball on Duke.
The Phoenix displayed a similarly strong defense while also struggling with some of the same issues as Duke–some miscommunication and a few missed opportunities. The young team almost allowed the Blue Devils to go up by three with 15 minutes left when a defender was left as the only obstacle in the way for a Blue Devil rapidly approached with the ball.
“We have to be really patient with ourselves but at the same time people need to step it up,” McCoy said. “They need to step into new roles because now the team is relying on them. So that’s the big message—as a team we have to come together and work together a bit better. With patience and with time, we’ll be able to reach that whole new level.”
The Blue Devils will begin the 2018 Duke Nike Classic with a match against Marquette Thursday night followed by a duel with Providence Sunday afternoon.
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