It was a battle until the end, but No. 20 Duke couldn’t make up the ground it gave up early to Northwestern.
In just their second match of the 2020 campaign, the Blue Devils fell to the third-ranked Wildcats 24-20 Sunday afternoon at Koskinen Stadium. Despite falling behind early, Duke never stopped battling, though it failed to come all the way back.
“I think obviously we’re disappointed in the result of the game,” Duke head coach Kerstin Kimel said. "I’m really pleased with how hard our kids fought, how focused they stayed. I think things we have to work on and fix are fixable and we’ll be excited to get back out there this week and start working on that stuff.”
The defeat comes just two days after Duke’s season opener against Gardner-Webb, in which the Blue Devils (1-1) won handily by a score of 22-7. Duke displayed its dominance on the draw after establishing itself as a leader in that category all of last season, blowing past the Bulldogs 20-9 in that category.
But Gardner-Webb didn’t pose enough of a challenge to the Blue Devils, and the Blue Devils found themselves with their backs against the wall against the much stronger Wildcats. Fewer than 13 minutes into the matchup, Duke found itself in a deep 8-0 hole, unable to stop Northwestern’s quick attack on offense or find its way past the Wildcats' hounding defense.
It wasn’t until the 18th minute that the Blue Devils finally found their way between the pipes on a free position shot by junior Katie Cronin, who ended with four goals on the day. From there, Duke found some momentum on offense but couldn’t get the defensive stop that it needed to get back into the game. The Blue Devils and Wildcats (2-0) traded goals until the end of the half, when Duke found itself within five goals of tying it but ended the half down six.
“It’s been a little bit of a theme for us that we have to be more physical,” Kimel said. “And I think once we started playing physically, that’s when you saw us contesting their shots, coming up with loose balls. And I just don’t think we did a great job of that coming out of the gate.”
After struggling on the draw in the first half, the Blue Devils found a different gear in the second half, flipping the script and winning the draw 16-7. Early in the second half, Duke won three draws in a row and scored twice off of them, bringing the team back within six goals of a tie.
Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, the trend from the first half continued, and the two teams continued to trade scores until the last six minutes of the half, with Duke falling behind by as many as 10 with eight minutes to go in the matchup. But, just as they had in the first half, the Blue Devils refused to give up.
After struggling defensively against Northwestern’s fast-paced, physical offense, the Blue Devils were finally able to match their intensity and come up with the stop that they had been looking for all game. After falling behind by 10, Duke never let the Wildcats score again and proceeded to rattle off six goals of its own, including a pair of goals from Maddie Jenner and Catriona Barry.
But the Blue Devils just didn’t have enough time to make up the difference and lost the match by four.
Despite the loss, there’s a lot to look forward to from this team. After getting adjusted to Northwestern’s physicality, Duke showed that it can hang with the best of them and score when they need to. However, the Blue Devils will have to stop merely hanging with top teams and start beating them, as they’ll face 10 ranked opponents this season.
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They’ll have a chance to polish up their game before their next matchup against Wofford Thursday 5 p.m., back at Koskinen Stadium. It will mark the Blue Devils' third match in a row at Koskinen and Wofford’s season opener.