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Duke women’s soccer escapes with draw in ACC opener

After finding its stride offensively in the past several games, beating each of its previous two opponents 6-0, Duke looked to make a statement against North Carolina State.

Instead, it staggered to the finish line, managing to pull out the draw.  

The eight-ranked Blue Devils drew 1-1 with the unranked Wolfpack at Koskinen Stadium after 110 minutes of play in the team’s ACC home opener Sunday. This was Duke’s second double-overtime game of the season—the first came against Georgetown—and its third overtime game overall. The Blue Devils came into the game looking aggressive but seemed to deflate as the game went on, despite coming into the game having only played twice in the past two weeks. This was a significant turnaround from their rapid-fire beginning to the season. 

“I thought we played well, but we got nothing out of the first half,” said Duke head coach Robbie Church. “That was a big key is playing so well and creating so many opportunities in the first half and getting nothing out of the half. And [the Wolfpack] was barely hanging on at halftime—we let them off the hook.” 

Going into halftime, despite the 0-0 score, Duke (5-1-2, 0-0-1 in the ACC) looked like the better team. The team had possessed the ball most of the half and had 11 shots to the Wolfpack’s two, with four of those 11 shots on goal. The pressure had been relentless, and if Duke continued its way of play, it would have won handily. After all, the Blue Devils had scored five goals in the second half in their previous game against James Madison. But the Wolfpack (5-3-1, 0-0-1 in the ACC), spurred on by their traveling student section, had other ideas.  

“I think we gave them the attitude that we weren’t ready to play in the second half,” Church said. “First five minutes, we play a lot of errant balls, we gave a lot of balls away, we gave a lot of things that were just really really poor. And we just never got our composure back in the second half.” 

Duke’s lack of composure, combined with N.C. State’s increased pressure, paid off for the Wolfpack in the 63rd minute when Duke defender Taylor Mitchell gave the ball away just outside the box. In an effort to try and save a goal, junior Caitlin Cosme fouled N.C. State midfielder Tziarra King in the box, giving her a penalty kick that she converted. Just after this goal, Duke star midfielder Mackenzie Pluck was subbed out of the game after aggravating an injury sustained in the first half. Without her constant press, the Blue Devils’ offense looked dead in the water. 

“She is an effective attacker for us, and she was great, she was playing well,” Church said. “She got kicked and unfortunately she’s got a sore ankle and at that point she’s done. But that’s gonna happen in this league—you’re gonna get kicked.” 

As the match wound to a close, it looked like, if anything, N.C. State would score again, with multiple opportunities presenting themselves, but the Blue Devils defense hung in there, hoping its offense would come up with a miracle. Particularly present was Duke sophomore defender Delaney Graham, who saved the game-sealing goal multiple times. 

“Delaney’s big-time,” said Church. “She’s got speed, she’s got pace, she can get across, she can cover a player. She saved us more than a couple times today. We just didn’t do a good job of reading, there was no pressure on the ball and they just played it straight down the middle of the field and ran in behind us.” 

But Duke’s defense held just long enough to give its offense an opportunity to send it to overtime. And that it did—with just over two minutes to play, freshman Sarah Piper sent a long ball into the top of the box. Fellow freshman Sophie Jones took the first touch passing it to senior Ella Stevens, who bounced it off her chest, turned around, let it bounce on the ground once and took the shot, lofting it toward the right side of the goal where it hit the inside of the post and bounced in. It was the Blue Devils’ first shot since the 53rd minute, a nearly 35-minute drought.  

From there, the Blue Devils continued their weary ways. The goal may have evened them up in the box score, but it hadn’t reignited their energy. In overtime, Duke only managed one shot to N.C. State’s five. The defense provided just enough to get Duke through the match, but the mentality will have to change as ACC play continues.  

“We just have to get better—we have to go back to the video room, go back to the training field, and get better,” Church said. “And we have to understand where we’re playing. In the ACC, nobody’s going to give up just because you dominate one half of the game. And to have that mentality, that cut-throat mentality, that’s one of the things we’ve been trying to work on. When you have your chances, you dominate the game, you score two or three goals in the first half, the game’s over, you break their spirit. We didn’t break their spirit.” 

Next up for the Blue Devils is a three-game ACC road trip that begins at Wake Forest on Thursday at 7 p.m. and continues against top-ranked Virginia. If the Blue Devils want to avoid being skewered on the road, they’ll have to develop that cut-throat mentality. 

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