Duke’s hopes at an ACC tournament title were quickly extinguished.
The sixth-seeded Blue Devils fell 1-0 to No. 3 seed Virginia Sunday night in Charlottesville, Va. After two hard-fought halves, it was the favored Cavaliers that emerged victorious in the ACC quarterfinal at Scott Stadium.
“I thought they were outstanding,” said Duke head coach Robbie Church. “Obviously we were playing the No. 1 team in the country...and we went toe to toe with them. For large parts of the game, we were the better team.”
For the majority of the game, Duke did look like the better team. The Blue Devils moved the ball with confidence and precision, keeping turnovers to a minimum and attempting to end every possession with a good shot. As opposed to their last meeting in September when Virginia (15-0-3) outshot Duke 18-6, the Blue Devils flipped the script, outshooting the Cavaliers 11-10.
At the end of the day, it came down to execution.
Duke (8-3-7) was able to possess and shoot, but almost all of its shots were inaccurate due to Virginia’s hounding defense. Of the Blue Devils' 11 shots, only two were on goal, which was not enough to break down a goalkeeper of Laurel Ivory’s talent. Multiple Duke breakaways ended in either slow shots on the ground, or shots sailing by on the wrong side of the goalpost.
“In some games we haven’t created as good chances as we did tonight. Some of us had tired legs. We’ve had so many overtime games and so much travel that we’re just not quite as sharp,” said Church. “With Virginia, you’re only gonna get half a look. They’re quick, they’re good defensively....I don’t think they’ve been tested like this much at all. You’re not gonna get a lot of clean looks. You’re gonna have to be ready to take the opportunity when it’s there and I don’t think we were quite as ready when the opportunity was there.”
Virginia forward Meghan McCoole notched the game's only score in the 54th minute. Her shot was assisted by a wild cross to the middle of the box, where McCoole was met by three Duke defenders. This was a dream situation for the Duke, which had been forcing low turnovers all night. However, McCoole was somehow able to evade all three defenders and place the ball right over Duke goalkeeper Brooke Heinsohn’s head for a devastating goal.
For the remainder of the game, Duke retained its intensity, but it was starting to get desperate. Among its last-ditch efforts for a tying goal was a close-range free kick by Ella Stevens that created multiple good looks, but ultimately ended in a chaotic scuffle, a good metaphor for the second half of this game.
This early exit was not what Duke had hoped for, but the season is still far from over. The Blue Devils will now be given some much deserved rest and will start training for the NCAA tournament. They have proved that their defense can hold off the best teams in the country, but still need to find strong and consistent scoring, unless they plan on winning every game off of penalty kicks.
“We’re hoping to go back into training. We’re hoping to get some fresher legs. We’re gonna spend a lot of time on [improving our offense] I promise you,” Church said. “We’re defending very well, but we’ve got to get better on the offensive end over the next two weeks.”
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