CHAPEL HILL — For 65 minutes, the Blue Devils simply could not seem to find the back of the net.
In its final exhibition match of the season, Duke’s offense stalled, resulting in a scoreless draw with Georgia. And after one more half of stagnancy to begin their regular season opener, the Blue Devils desperately needed to break through offensively.
Senior Ella Stevens and sophomore Marykate McGuire did just that for Duke, each tallying scores in the final 25 minutes of the match, while the defense and goalkeeper Brooke Heinsohn held down the fort for the Blue Devils.
Although a passing storm delayed the official start of its 2019 campaign for about an hour, No. 8 Duke took down the La Salle Explorers 2-0 at the UNC Soccer and Lacrosse Stadium Thursday evening, in Duke’s first game of the 2019 Nike Carolina tournament.
“It was a typical season opener—it was ebb-and-flow, it was up-and-down,” said head coach Robbie Church. “I thought we struggled a little bit coming out of the gate but in the middle of the first half we did well with some things. We just passed the ball to them a lot in the first half.”
The match got off to a rocky start for the Blue Devils (1-0), with junior defender Remi Swartz picking up a yellow card three minutes into the match right outside the box. After that though, Duke began to exert pressure on the Explorers’ defense, creating multiple opportunities in the box within minutes of each other, but not capitalizing on any of them.
The Blue Devils never saw another good string of opportunities in the first half, often faltering on the break and allowing La Salle (0-1) to set itself up to defend. Communication difficulties plagued Duke, causing struggles on throw-ins and in finding the open teammate. The frustration was visible and the physicality of both teams came to the forefront, though neither team found the back of the net, entering halftime in a scoreless draw.
However, after the break, Duke looked like a different team offensively. It came out firing, with true freshman Sophie Jones taking a shot less than a minute into the half and her teammates continuing the trend, matching the number of shots from the first half in the first 20 minutes of the second half. The shots became more accurate too, with more shots on goal than in the first half. By the end of the second half, the Blue Devils had nine shots on goal, compared to two on goal when entering halftime.
“I thought the second half was great,” said Church. “We locked them in, we created a ton of opportunities, people made some good saves. The body language was different, the mentality was different. We just stayed with it and stayed with it.”
And, after several near goals, the Blue Devils finally found the back of the net in the sixty-eighth minute when Stevens put a beautiful unassisted ball past La Salle’s goalkeeper Claudia Jenkins. But Duke wasn’t satisfied with just one goal and continued to exert the pressure in an effort to put the game away.
With less than five minutes to go, it looked like the match would end with the Blue Devils winning 1-0. But sophomore Marykate McGuire had other ideas, as she took it down the field herself, maneuvered around several defenders and slid it past the goalkeeper, sealing the deal for Duke.
“It’s early, we still have a lot of work to do,” said Church. “But all we could be was 1-0 at the end of the day and that’s what we are, so we’re very happy to be there.”
The Blue Devils lost a combined 21 goals from the departures of Kayla McCoy and Taylor Racioppi, but neither Church nor Stevens seemed concerned about a lack of goal scorers on the team.
“We have great goal scorers—Marykate [McGuire], Mackenzie [Pluck], Ella [Stevens], Mia [Gyau], Tess [Boade], Sophie [Jones],” said Church. “They can all score goals.”
Stevens, the senior from Grayson, Ga., echoed her head coach’s sentiment.
“Last year, we had lost Imani [Dorsey] and a lot of other good goal scorers so it happens every year,” Stevens said. “But different people will step up in different games depending on what happens, and we have the players to do that.”
Next up for the Blue Devils is another match in Chapel Hill, this one against No. 2 North Carolina on Sunday. After not getting a chance last season to face their Tobacco Road rivals, the Blue Devils will be eager to prove themselves against a top-5 team and showcase all their different goal scorers.
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