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Mackenzie Pluck ignites Duke women's soccer offense with career night

<p>Mackenzie Pluck was the driving force for another elite night for Duke's attacking frontline.</p>

Mackenzie Pluck was the driving force for another elite night for Duke's attacking frontline.

A Sunday evening battle between Duke and the Dukes ended with the Durham-based squad on top, as the Blue Devils extended their winning streak to four behind the pluck of sophomore Mackenzie Pluck.

The Blue Devil offense did not start out hot as the final score may suggest, but a career game from Pluck ignited a second half explosion that sent James Madison home packing wondering what went wrong in the second period.

No. 11 Duke put away James Madison 6-0 at Koskinen Stadium, earning another win in dominant fashion before heading into the tough ACC gauntlet. Pluck finished with a team-high four points off her one goal and two assists, wreaking havoc on the left side of the field. James Madison’s talented backline could not keep up with Pluck’s speed, as she made play after play to open up opportunities for her teammates. 

“I think she's been playing at a really high level,” Blue Devil head coach Robbie Church said. “We're really happy of her growth of her game decisions…that kind of combination play with our finishes was big time.”

Pluck’s aggression helped Duke (5-1-1) earn 10 corner kicks in the first half, before senior Ella Stevens forced a James Madison own goal off a beautifully placed lob from the flag that the goalie could not contain. This score, Duke’s first of the night, took longer than Church would have liked—it took 15 shot attempts and 32 minutes to break James Madison’s defense—but it energized Duke’s attack for the second half, giving James Madison (2-6) the same fate as LSU just a week ago.

“I think after halftime, we knew what to do, how to break their line and get everyone in,” Pluck said. “I think just having the belief that if you get in and you trust your teammates, that they're going to get to the ball and that if we keep making those runs, it's going to go in.” 

Just eight minutes after Duke’s halftime meeting, Pluck took advantage of James Madison’s new defensive press, getting behind her defender and crossing a perfectly placed ball on the ground to sophomore Marykate McGuire who didn’t hesitate to finish past the goalkeeper.

Soon after, Stevens decided to get in on the fun all by herself. Stevens missed a shot off the left back post, but secured the rebound to easily score in a keeper-less net. The Grayson, Ga., native’s solo act should not outshine Stevens’ efforts throughout the entire match to get her teammates involved, as her poise in the wake of James Madison’s defensive pressure allowed her fellow forwards to stay calm. This encouraged the offensive attack to keep shooting against a James Madison backline that allowed an average of just 2.6 goals per game in the six matches played prior to Sunday.

“I thought we were very professional today, all day. I thought we were prepared,” Church said. “It was important that we got [the first goal], that was important…. But I thought we had a lot of quality the whole game.”

This game marks the third game in a row, and the fifth game overall, that goalkeeper Brooke Heinsohn acquired a clean sheet. Though the redshirt junior did not have much opportunity to show off her talents against James Madison—the team only forced Heinsohn to make one save—her vocal leadership helped keep the Blue Devil defense locked and loaded. Part of the reason why James Madison’s offense stalled so much was that Duke’s smothering backline limited its opponents to fast breaks rather than set plays.

With this win, Duke will get yet another full week of rest before jumping straight into the challenging ACC slate next Sunday against N.C. State back in Koskinen at 1 p.m.

“I think we're really hungry,” Pluck said. “Now we can visualize how we're going to score as a team against more aggressive teams in the back line.”

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