Last week, Santa Clara woke up the sleeping giant that is Duke’s offense, and the Blue Devils frontline hasn’t looked back ever since.
For the third straight game, Duke scored at least three goals, this time in a Sunday afternoon rout of LSU. Against the Tigers, the Blue Devils earned five scores before the halftime buzzer even sounded, representing the awakening and newfound aggression from Duke’s goal scorers.
The Blue Devils dominated LSU 6-0 at Koskinen Stadium, not allowing a single shot the entire match by utilizing a relentless offensive attack that would not quit. No. 12 Duke’s fourth win of the season was a concerted effort by a squad that seems to be finding its footing and chemistry at just the right time, with only two weeks left until ACC play.
“We're just building confidence as each game goes on,” an elated Ella Stevens said. “Obviously, we started off the season with some tough teams. And we didn't let that affect us. We just we looked at video we saw what we could do better., and we implemented that. And I think we did well with that today.”
Sometimes it only takes one player’s energy to rub off on the rest of the team and set the tone for the match. Junior Tess Boade was the catalyst for Duke’s offense, as her nonstop fight to control the ball was imitated by her teammates and definitely felt by the Tiger’s backline. Time and time again, observers could spot Boade streaking down the right side of the field giving her fellow forwards a target to pass to. Boade’s persistence paid off in the 16th minute, when sophomore Mackenzie Pluck passed it to Boade in the box, allowing the Highlands Ranch, Colo., native to sneak the ball past LSU goalkeeper for the first goal of the day.
Boade’s goal was patient zero of a contagious scoring fever that spread throughout the Blue Devil roster, and the Tigers (2-3-1) could not find a cure.
“We don't talk a lot about scoring goals,” head coach Robbie Church said. “We don't talk a lot about games, we talk a lot about how we play and doing the right things and how we set ourselves and we feel that if we do the right things, it will take care of itself, we’ll score goals and we'll win games.”
Soon after Boade’s breakthrough, Stevens found the back of the net, when she crossed her defender in the box—taking her ankles as a souvenir—and curved in a left-footed shot to give Duke a two-goal lead less than 20 minutes into the game. As the lone senior starter on the team, Stevens success on the field helped energize the rest of the Blue Devils (4-1-1), as her poise and aggression set a good example.
“[Stevens has] given us that lift and she's a very talented player, really offensively skilled,” Church said. “So we want the ball in her hands as much as possible and you know, she's making some pretty good decisions right now.”
Stevens wasn’t satisfied though, as she opted for an unconventional way to score a goal just 11 minutes later. On Duke’s fourth corner attempt of the game, Stevens decided to shoot from the flag, kicking a ball that soared past an astonished and diving goalie for the Blue Devils’ fourth score. Church gave the Tigers their first gift of the game when he took Stevens out for the rest of the first half to rest.
As for Duke’s defense, it didn’t have to work very hard due to Duke’s domination of the possession arrow for the entirety of the match. Instead, the talented Blue Devil backline got busy on the other side of the ball, as three defenders were responsible for two of Duke’s goals. At the end of the first half, junior Remi Swartz finished a beautiful cross from freshman forward Emmy Duerr who broke a double team to get it to her teammate. Then, in the middle of the second period, defenders Taylor Mitchell and Delaney Graham connected on a Graham lob and a Mitchell header for Duke’s sixth and final goal of the day.
The Blue Devils’ outing against the Tigers painted a different picture of Duke’s ability on the offensive end compared to the team’s relatively slow start to the season. From top to bottom, Duke played with an intensity that lasted for the whole 90 minutes, which was made clear by Duke’s 24 total shots, 13 of them on goal. Even the Blue Devil reserves kept the offensive fire alive, as freshmen such as Julia Hannon and Duerr did not take the foot of the LSU neck. No clear talent drop-off when Church began to sub out his starters provided a bright outlook on the future of Duke’s program.
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Duke can only hope to keep its aggressive spirit alive with a week-long break before its last nonconference game against James Madison next Sunday in Koskinen at 6 p.m.