When your team has to replace six starters from a group that reached the College Cup semifinals last season, it’s only a matter of time until you hit a bump in the road.
Ask Duke head coach Robbie Church.
After the Blue Devils opened their 2018 campaign with a shutout of No. 23 Ohio State Thursday night, winning 2-0 at Koskinen Stadium, Illinois stunned No. 3 Duke 2-1 in Durham to wrap up the Carolina Nike Tournament Sunday afternoon. Senior Taylor Racciopi scored her second goal in as many games, but a pair of first-half Fighting Illini tallies in response were enough to secure the victory.
“Obviously, [I’m] disappointed overall with our performance,” Church told GoDuke.com. “It starts with me as a head coach.... I didn’t think we felt the game, I didn’t think we moved to support for each other.”
Just more than 15 minutes into Sunday’s match, senior Kayla McCoy slipped one to Raccioppi, and the Ocean Township, N.J., native did what she does best, putting it into the back of the net.
The Blue Devils (1-1-0) would not manage to do that the rest of the day, however, thanks to an immaculate performance from Illinois goalie Jaelyn Cunningham. The Illini netminder made four saves and looked comfortable at the back, even as Duke pushed late for an equalizer.
And two minutes after the Blue Devils opened the day’s scoring, Illinois (1-1-0) leveled things on a gorgeous long-range strike by Makena Silber, who placed it in the upper left-corner.
The Illini then pulled ahead just before halftime, taking advantage of a Duke own goal.
A corner kick fell into traffic at the near post and bounced off Blue Devil junior Ella Stevens to put Illinois up just before halftime.
“I didn’t think that even with the first minute that we were really set and ready to play,” a frustrated Church said.
Duke turned up the heat after intermission, pouring in 11 shots as a team—three from freshman Marykate McGuire and another from classmate Delaney Graham that glanced off the far post in a one-on-one breakaway with the goalie.
The Blue Devils started five freshmen Sunday, something they hadn’t done since 2014, the year in which all of last year’s seniors began their Duke careers.
“We need to work extremely hard every time we step out here, and everybody has to be thinking together, playing together and really keep tactics on the same page,” Church said. “We had to move a lot of people to help in positions they’ve had to be in, which is unusual for the last couple of games that we’ve had.”
Thursday night was not nearly as frustrating for the Blue Devils.
Although it took more than a half for Duke to get on the board, it was another freshman that scored the first Blue Devil goal of the year. Mackenzie Pluck grabbed the ball in the early minutes of the second half and blasted one past the Buckeye keeper to put Duke up 1-0.
With sophomore goalie Brooke Heinsohn keeping a clean sheet in the back, sophomore Lily Nabet nearly scored her first-ever collegiate goal in the 68th minute. Racioppi later slammed the door shut, knocking one home in the 81st to salt away the contest.
Next up for the Blue Devils is a true road contest, as they head to Washington for a matchup at Georgetown Thursday. The Hoyas kicked off their season with a 1-0 win against Georgia Friday before drawing Virginia Tech 1-1 Sunday.
“It’s early in the year,” Church said. “It’s the first time we’ve had to turn around from Thursday to Sunday, but it’s a disappointing effort from us and it’s one that if we have an effort, we have to have a maximum with us to be successful.”
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A junior from just outside Philadelphia, Mitchell is probably reminding you how the Eagles won the Super Bowl this year and that the Phillies are definitely on the rebound. Outside of The Chronicle, he majors in Economics, minors in Statistics and is working toward the PJMS certificate, in addition to playing trombone in the Duke University Marching Band. And if you're getting him a sandwich with beef and cheese outside the state of Pennsylvania, you best not call it a "Philly cheesesteak."