Emmy Duerr came into the Blue Devils' biggest game of the season an up-and-coming freshman, with only a double pair of assists and starts to her name.
But once she stepped onto the field for just her third start of the season, when the lights were the brightest they’d been all year, she shone brighter than all the rest.
Duke may have won the first-round NCAA tournament matchup 4-0 against Utah, but Duerr won the night at Koskinen Stadium Friday night, scoring the first two goals of her college career in spectacular fashion.
“I grew up coming to Duke soccer games,” said Duerr, a Cary, N.C., native. “Ever since I was really little, I’ve been around the college soccer game [and] it’s just so incredible to actually be here and be on the field myself. I just never would’ve dreamed that I would have been here, so this is just really huge.”
After losing two games in a row for the first time since 2015, the Blue Devils needed to get into a rhythm early in order to secure the win and advance out of the opening round of the NCAA tournament for the ninth-straight time. They came into the game well-rested, having not played in 12 days, but rather than coming out strong, it took some time to shake off the rust on offense.
“I thought we were okay in the first half,” said Duke head coach Robbie Church. “I thought we were pretty average, kept giving the ball away, kept trying to do things we weren’t capable of doing, playing longer balls than we really needed to do instead of moving the ball and moving them sideways and then penetrating on the next pass. [I] didn’t think we were great in the box. It’s been like this a lot where its 1-0 at halftime or 0-0 at halftime. We dominated teams [and] we should put those teams away.”
The Blue Devils (9-3-7) certainly dominated the time of possession in the first half, but they couldn’t seem to convert on any of the opportunities they were creating for themselves, despite sophomores Mackenzie Pluck and Delaney Graham putting together a number of good runs and crosses that should have led to shots.
That is, until the 31st minute, when Duerr introduced herself to the rest of the country.
After Pluck sent yet another cross into the box, a perfectly positioned Duerr found the back of the net, putting the Blue Devils up 1-0, a score that would hold until the half.
The second half was a different story for Duke. On the offensive side of the ball, the Blue Devils looked cleaner and it didn’t take long for those changes to pay dividends. Once again, it was Duerr cashing in the check, picking up her second goal of the evening five minutes into the second half.
“She works so hard, she presses, she’s getting better, she’s getting more confident—I knew she was going to get a big goal,” said Church about Duerr. “We needed her. She brings abundant energy to us, [both] offensively and defensively. She’s earned the right to get on the field and so we’re very very proud of her for taking advantage of her opportunity to come in the NCAA first round, and score two goals. That’s something she won't ever forget.”
Already up 2-0, all Duke had to do was keep its foot on the gas and cruise to a victory. The Blue Devils suffered a brief scare three minutes after Duerr’s goal when Utah (8-9-4) was in a near one-on-one situation with Duke goalkeeper Brooke Heinsohn but, as she has done so often this season, Heinsohn found a way to make the save and keep the momentum with the Blue Devils.
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“She’s done that all year for us,” Church said about Heinsohn. “She’s really come up when we need her. I think Brooke is very underrated. I was disappointed she wasn’t an all-ACC player. She’s played at that level. She hasn’t gotten a lot of love from the national people. She’s been really really good for us this year and I have a hard time finding a lot of better goalkeepers in the ACC than her.”
The 4-0 win was exactly what Duke needed to boost its confidence heading into its second-round matchup against third-seeded Wisconsin. Luckily for the Blue Devils, they’ll get to avoid the cold, as they’ll be traveling to Los Angeles for their game Friday at Wallis Annenberg Stadium.