They say what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, but the Las Vegas-based Rebels are surely hoping that what happened in Durham Thursday night stays in Durham.
The weather may have been gloomy, but that didn’t stop the 12th-ranked Blue Devils from making history, as they secured their 400th win in program history with a victory against UNLV in the 2019 Duke Nike Classic. It was Duke’s most complete game of the season, matching their offensive output from their highest scoring game of the season and pairing it with another clean sheet, walking away with a 3-0 victory.
“We did a good job finding some free players out there and moving the ball,” said Duke head coach Robbie Church. “The speed of play was good and it led to us creating opportunities. The real negative I would say is we left way too many scoring opportunities out there, especially in the first half. We should’ve been up four or five in the first half. We had some really quality chances and we didn’t finish those.”
Despite the historic win, Duke (3-1-1) did not escape the contest unscathed. Just 20 minutes into the match, star sophomore defender Delaney Graham went down with a leg injury, needing assistance off the field. She was replaced by junior Remi Swartz and never returned to the game.
Only minutes after Swartz entered, Duke’s first offensive breakthrough occurred, with sophomore midfielder Mackenzie Pluck chipping the ball over the Rebel keeper off assists from Tess Boade and Swartz, giving the Blue Devils an early lead.
After scoring what was Duke’s first goal in a first half this season, Pluck quickly proved she wasn’t content with just the one. Fifteen minutes after the first, another opportunity arose off a long pass from behind the midfield line from freshman forward Emily Duerr. Pluck beat out two Rebel defenders in a foot race and maneuvered around the goalie, who had come out of the box, and easily slotted it into an empty net for her third goal in two games.
“Having a goal in the last game was definitely good to visualize for the next game,” said Pluck. “Know[ing] that you can get there and having that first goal always helps in the season so I think it helped a lot this game.”
After a flurry of opportunities in the first five minutes of the second half, it was only a matter of time before Duke struck again and sealed the game. 10 minutes into the second half, sophomore forward Marykate McGuire put it past the keeper off an assist from lone senior starter Ella Stevens. This was McGuire’s third goal of the season, matching her total goal count from her freshman campaign.
The rest of the game didn’t see much offensive action, but instead saw a flurry of substitutions. Confident that his team could hold their lead, head coach Robbie Church subbed in nearly every freshman player on the roster for what was, for many of them, their first collegiate minutes. Most notably among them was freshman goalkeeper Ruthie Jones, sister of Duke’s former star quarterback Daniel Jones.
“It was great to get everyone in the game,” said Church. “Our players have really been working hard but unfortunately this last week we haven’t been able to get some of the younger players in and get them quality minutes. They did what they were supposed to do [tonight] - they added positive energy to us, they added to the game, so very very happy with that.”
Despite Duke’s offense getting much of the attention after their recent revival, one would be amiss to ignore its defense, anchored by redshirt junior goalkeeper Brooke Heinsohn. Heinsohn has been dominant this year and today was no different, making one of her most important saves of the season. Just minutes after Duke scored their first goal, UNLV (2-2) took it down the field and had a near one-on-one matchup with Heinsohn. Despite the rain in her eyes, she punched the ball away, preserving both Duke’s lead and their momentum.
“We’re getting better and just looking forward to finishing the tournament,” said Church. “We’ll look at ourselves again: are we still building with our diamonds, are we finding the free player that’s open, what are we doing in the final third, can it be better decisions in the final third. And for sure composure, just composure. We got to start the recovery and make some tweaks and get ready for LSU on Sunday.”
Duke faces another quick turnaround as they play LSU on Sunday at Koskinen to finish out the Duke Nike Classic. After that, the Blue Devils will have a week off before returning to the field.
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