With five minutes left, the game seemed all but wrapped up. The Blue Devils had been struggling offensively throughout the entire second half, and the Orange had just rattled off three of the last four goals to silence the home crowd.
Fast-forward four minutes, though, and Duke had a chance to send the game to overtime. The Blue Devils were down by one, and the crowd was on its feet. Suddenly, it seemed as though overtime was inevitable.
But an errant pass with 50 seconds left took all the air out of the home crowd for Duke, which left a packed Koskinen Stadium crowd empty-handed and without a much-needed marquee victory.
The 13th-ranked Blue Devils dropped a home affair to No. 4 Syracuse 15-14 Saturday afternoon on Alumni Day and the “It Takes A Team – DukeWLAX for DCI” event. In front of numerous alumnae, Duke committed 20 turnovers in a sloppy second-half performance that ultimately doomed the home side.
“I’m obviously really disappointed in the result. We felt really good coming into this game,” Blue Devil head coach Kerstin Kimel said. “I just challenged our team right now after the game. We have to be better. We have to be more dependable [and] reliable.”
The game was a tale of two halves in every sense.
The first 30 minutes featured a high-scoring affair with much more offense than defense for both teams. At one point, the two teams were knotted at five apiece with just one save between the sides, as Duke and the Orange traded two and three-goal runs.
With Syracuse (12-2, 4-1 in the ACC) man-marking the nation’s leading scorer Charlotte North, senior attack Olivia Jenner dominated throughout the first half, pumping five of her career-best six goals to keep up with an Orange offense that also faced little resistance in the half.
“Because they play primarily a zone defense, it means that they are somewhat weaker 1v1, and that’s one of my strengths,” Jenner said. “I had to be able to step up and put some production on the board.”
Just as Jenner was able to find space to dominate in the opening period, Syracuse’s Emily Hawryschuk was as well, as she racked up four goals and an assist, consistently beating the Blue Devil defense on its rotations.
“[Hawryschuk] is just a force,” Kimel said. “We did an awesome job on her last year up in in Dome, and this year, she’s taken her game to a whole new level. We needed more help to her.”
While the first half was highlighted by a frantic, up-and-down pace resulting in 18 combined goals, the second half was close to the exact opposite.
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Both teams were more physical, and the Orange switched up their defensive scheme, which threw the previously red-hot Duke offense off. With Jenner providing the lion’s share of the Blue Devil attack, Syracuse opted to face guard both her as well as North, forcing Duke to play five on five against the Orange.
Although the passing lanes were there, the Blue Devils (8-4, 2-2) continuously missed them. At times, mistakes came on clears as Syracuse got chance after chance from the eight-meter mark. But other times, just like it was at the end of the game, it was a simple misfired pass.
Despite their dominance at the draw—which is almost expected at this point for one of the nation’s best in the department—the Blue Devils were not able to take advantage of their offensive possessions until it was too late.
“20 turnovers, you can’t do that against a top-10 team. They’re going to make you pay,” Kimel said. “I just challenged our team right now after the game. We have to be better. We have to be more dependable.”
With the comeback bid falling short, Duke has now dropped three one-goal contests to top-10 teams. The team will have a few more chances to land a season-defining victory, with ACC matchups against No. 1 Boston College, No. 4 North Carolina and No. 6 Notre Dame on the slate in upcoming weeks.
But for now, the Blue Devils will have to settle for a heart-breaking loss.
They will have an entire week to prepare before traveling to Chestnut Hill, Mass., to face off against the top-ranked team in the nation next Saturday afternoon.