Entering the weekend, Duke’s offense had looked far from that of a top-15 team. The Blue Devils had scored just 14 goals and they ranked outside the top 100 in shots on goal per game through eight contests.
Numbers like that just weren’t going to cut it come ACC play. So Robbie Church’s squad made a change.
No. 13 Duke made a statement in its conference opener Sunday, rolling to a 4-0 victory against Syracuse at SU Soccer Stadium in Syracuse, N.Y. The Blue Devils needed nearly 34 minutes to break a scoreless deadlock, but once senior Taylor Racioppi’s opener found the back of the net, Duke’s attack wouldn’t quit.
Sunday’s win marked the third time in as many seasons that the Blue Devils got the better of their opponent in a conference opener.
“It’s huge,” Church said. “We put a lot of energy and a lot of work into this, really trying to make sure we really understood how important it was to start off [well,] not only to get the three points, but to get a win on the road.”
Duke (7-1-1, 1-0-0 in the ACC) spent even more time away from home than usual, leaving Durham Thursday morning before practicing in Gettysburg, Pa., later that day. The Blue Devils then woke up and finished the last of their 600-plus mile bus trip Friday, making it to Syracuse (3-6-0, 0-1-0) in time for Duke’s field hockey game against the Orange that evening.
With Hurricane Florence forcing the Blue Devils’ Sunday field hockey game against Saint Joseph’s to be relocated from North Carolina to upstate New York, the two Duke teams spent the weekend together, staying in the same Syracuse hotel and going out to dinner Saturday night.
The Blue Devils benefited from a little extra time off, putting together “close to their most complete game” of the season on the pitch.
“We needed to play a complete game,” Church said. “At the beginning of the game, I thought we came out really well. I thought there was a time, about 10 minutes into it, that we got out of our rhythm. The first goal was a really, really important goal. I wouldn’t say the game was starting to go the other way, but I think all of sudden Syracuse was starting to think, ‘Oh, we can play with these guys.’”
In the 35th minute, Kayla McCoy kept the ball alive, knocking it away from the outstretched arms of the Orange goalkeeper. She then turned it back toward the middle of the box and found freshman Marykate McGuire, who fought her way through traffic before sending a laser to the front of the goal. And it was easy work for Racioppi to slam it home from point-blank range, giving the visitors the lead.
Duke didn’t have to wait much longer for a second score.
McGuire got in on the action, taking advantage of a Blue Devil transition opportunity, as the rookie got a ball on the outside edge of the 18-yard box, curled to her left and fired one into the upper-right corner. Syracuse’s net minder never had a chance and in a flash, Duke had a 2-0 advantage.
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The Blue Devils wouldn’t let off the gas after the break, getting two more scores in less than a half hour. Duke goalkeeper Brooke Heinsohn needed just one save to secure yet another clean sheet—her sixth in nine games.
“We were relentless in the second half,” Church said. “We really pressured them, we turned them over at midfield or in their half of the field, we locked them in...we dominated in corner kicks, we dominated in possession, we dominated shots. We probably should’ve had a couple more goals.”
One of the second-half tallies came from sophomore midfielder Lily Nabet, her first as a Blue Devil.
The Los Angeles native played just 17 minutes all of last season, but Nabet has seen time in all nine games thus far in 2018 and is one of several key bench options for Church along with classmate Tess Boade and freshman Mackenzie Pluck.
“Lily’s done a great, great job for us,” Church said. “She’s that type of player you can bring off the bench–she brings energy, effort, and you can plug her into two or three positions down on the field.”
Duke will return to campus for just a few days before getting back on the road. After playing the northernmost ACC school, the Blue Devils will visit the conference’s most southern, Miami, for a Thursday night match up.
“[It’s] a pretty tough first part of the schedule that we were dealt with, getting two ACC games on the road” Church said. “It’s a short turnaround, but that’s okay.... We’ll be ready by Thursday night.”