After posting its lowest scoring output of the season against Notre Dame, Duke looked to turn things around against rival North Carolina and finally win against a top-10 team. The Tar Heels and their premier defense, featuring one of the top goalies in the nation in Taylor Moreno, had other ideas.
No. 13 Duke’s struggles continued against No. 3 North Carolina Saturday evening at Koskinen Stadium, losing 19-5—its lowest scoring output of the season and their lowest scoring output since March 2, 2018 when the Blue Devils scored five goals in a loss to Stanford. In a rivalry that is, across most sports, historically close, it hasn’t been for the women’s lacrosse team, with the Tar Heels winning their ninth straight against the Blue Devils.
“I’m disappointed—I thought that we competed hard against UNC, certainly better than we did last week against Notre Dame,” said Duke head coach Kerstin KImel. “We knew what to expect, we worked hard all week in practice. [But] unfortunately we did not do a good job of falling back on our training tonight in the game.”
After an up-and-down 15 minutes to start the match that saw Duke trail by as many as three, senior attacker Olivia Jenner and star sophomore attack Charlotte North scored consecutively to bring the Blue Devils within one goal at 4-3. But that’s as close as it ever was. The Tar Heels rattled off five straight goals to end the half and followed it up with two more to start the second before Duke ever managed to get the ball between the pipes again.
“On our looks offensively [during that stretch], I don’t think we did a good job taking care of the ball and executing when we had the opportunities that we had,” said Kimel. “UNC’s offense is really potent and our gameplan with number three [Jamie Ortega] and number eight [Katie Hoeg], I thought at times it looked good and, at times, I don’t think that we executed that as well as we wanted to.”
It was a sloppy first half for the Blue Devils. After averaging only 16 turnovers per game, Duke (9-7, 2-5 in the ACC) turned it over 12 times in the first half alone. Eight of those turnovers were caused by the Tar Heels, who only average seven caused turnovers per game. For a defense that thrives between the posts, North Carolina looked elite all around against the Blue Devils, who struggled to get it across the field cleanly, going 9-13 on clears in the first half.
Duke's carelessness with the ball stood in stark contrast to North Carolina (12-3, 5-2), which ranks No. 1 in the country in least turnovers per game. On Saturday, the Tar Heels had even less than their average, only turning the ball over nine times the whole game.
“UNC is really aggressive and I thought there were just a couple opportunities where we didn’t do a good job of protecting our sticks, whether it was a draw win or trying to get the ball out in the clear,” said Kimel. “We carried ourselves into trouble too far before we tried to get ourselves out of trouble and it put ourselves in a position where we were vulnerable to get checked.”
After coming out with a lot of energy to start the first half, helped by a small but very vocal crowd, the Blue Devils looked tired in the second half. Offensively, they scored even less than they did in the first half. Defensively, they allowed North Carolina to score one more goal than they had in the first on six fewer shots.
For the second match in a row, Duke has failed to post a double-digit scoring output, after only failing to do that once the rest of the season. Its usually potent offense, which ranks 10th in scoring offense and features the second-highest goal scorer in the country in North, has looked stagnant the past two matches.
“Offense is about being confident. And right now [our kids] are struggling with their confidence,” said Kimel. “We need to be more dynamic and we are, that’s the thing, that’s the frustrating and disappointing part. We are a really dynamic offense, we just haven't shown it in the past two weekends unfortunately.”
One of the only bright points of the night came on the draw. After badly losing the draw the draw to Notre Dame, 16-7, the Blue Devils were back to their winning ways there, winning 16-10. Nine of those draws were controlled by Olivia Jenner, who also had a hat trick on the game.
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The Blue Devils face a fairly quick turnaround as they head to Massachusetts for the ACC
championships Wednesday, where they will be the No. 6 seed. They’ll have the opportunity for revenge when they face No. 3 seed Notre Dame for the second time in two weeks.
“We’ve got to pull our bootstraps up, go back to work and get ourselves in a good frame of mind and ready to play a really great ACC opponent,” said Kimel.