Once the goals started coming, they did not stop.
No matter what Duke head coach Kerstin Kimel tried, nothing was working. Two timeouts to try to halt the momentum just led to more goals, ones leaving Blue Devil goalkeeper Gabbe Cadoux helpless in net.
By the time the first half ended, Duke had surrendered 12 goals, easily surpassing its season average heading into the game. Ultimately, the deficit was too much for the Blue Devils despite garnering enough strength to mount a second-half comeback.
No. 12 Duke dropped its first ACC contest of the season 17-12 against No. 7 Virginia at Klöckner Stadium Saturday afternoon in Charlottesville, Va. The Blue Devils managed to outscore the Cavaliers 8-5 in the second half, but could not find enough answers for Virginia’s attack, which featured five players with multiple goals.
“Defensively, we were not sharp today,” Kimel told GoDuke.com. “To [Virginia’s] credit, I thought they were really outstanding in terms of how aggressive they were attacking the cage, and I don’t think we responded well.”
After a draw control victory and midfielder Abby Landry saved shot to start the game, Duke survived a five-shot onslaught from the Cavaliers, but could not pull off a successful clear attempt.
And then the floodgates opened.
Ashlyn McGovern started Virginia’s run of six straight goals to open the game, converting on one of the Cavaliers’ four free-position tallies of the day. After the first 10 minutes, Virginia had already notched six goals.
An Olivia Jenner score did not stop the Cavaliers’ momentum, as they rattled off four straight. By the time the Blue Devils (7-3, 2-1 in the ACC) could get set on offense, it was 10-1.
Then, Duke started to chip away at its deficit. By the end of the first half, the Blue Devils had cut the deficit to eight on the strength of freshman attack Eva Greco. Greco—who was starting in her second straight contest—found Lindsey Reynolds and Charlotte North for goals, and then notched her first-ever one in a Duke uniform to cap off the half. Although the Blue Devils were still struggling defensively to end the first half, Greco made sure the game did not get completely out of hand.
Playing largely from behind the cage, Greco was able to use her height and feeding ability to kickstart Duke’s offense. Especially with Virginia (9-3, 1-3) man-marking North, who ranks second in the nation in goals, Greco had more space to make plays for herself and finished with a goal and four assists.
“We just felt like we needed someone else who could distribute the ball, and [Greco] did a really good job,” Kimel said. “She just did her job and that’s all we can ask for.”
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Coming out of the locker room at halftime, the Blue Devils were able to continue their offensive success from the last minutes of the opening period, going on a 6-2 run to bring the score to 14-10 with 13:24 left in the game.
Passing lanes started opening up, and Duke flexed its muscles on the draw to aid the run, as it managed to amass 20 draw controls to Virginia’s 11. With the Blue Devils getting out in transition, they took advantage of a scrambling Cavalier defense to make the top-15 matchup interesting.
On the afternoon, despite having to deal with multiple defenders when she touched the ball, North was still able to find the back of the net four times, often on deft cuts to the front of the net. After a Virginia goal, North brought the margin back to four with 10 minutes left, but then two straight Cavalier goals cemented the victory for the home team.
“The biggest thing is that we needed a reset button,” Kimel said. “Clearly, we dug ourselves into a significant hole in the first half, and mentality-wise, we just felt like we needed to get the girls thinking about a new half [and] doing the simple things well.”
Duke will only have a few days to solve its defensive issues and prepare for Campbell, as it will travel to Buies Creek, N.C., for a Tuesday night affair against the Fighting Camels.