For the first time in over 278 minutes, dating back to Sept. 17 against Virginia, the Blue Devils found the back of the net.
After a tough loss to rival North Carolina a week ago, No. 11 Duke was able to put things together against No. 3 Clemson Sunday night for a 1-0 win at Koskinen Stadium. It was arguably the Blue Devils' most complete performance since their first game of the season and a win they desperately needed to boost their place in the ACC standings.
“I thought we worked hard. I thought we were gutty,” Duke head coach Robbie Church said. “I thought we were struggling at the beginning of the first half giving the ball away all the time, but a key thing really happened when we made subs. Maggie Graham came on, she settled the ball; Karlie [Paschall] came on, she got the assist to Olivia; Olivia came on and scored the goal. They came and made a huge impact in the game once they got in there. I was excited for that group. I thought we just gutted it out. It was a huge, huge win for us.”
Despite the wealth of talent and experience the Blue Devils (2-1-2, 1-1-2 in the ACC) have on their roster, it wasn’t any of the upperclassmen that broke Duke out of its scoreless streak. It was freshman forward Olivia Migli, who subbed on for fellow freshman Emily Royson 20 minutes into the match and scored 10 minutes later, the first goal of her collegiate career. It was no easy goal either, requiring a perfect ball from senior Karlie Paschall into the box and a perfect run from Olivia, resulting in a sliding shot that rolled past the keeper and any Clemson defender who was around.
For the first 30 minutes of the match, though, it looked like Duke’s offensive woes would continue. Both teams came out aggressive and looking to score, but it quickly became clear that the Blue Devils were not firing on all offensive cylinders, with several clumsy passes leading to turnovers rather than scoring opportunities and a corner kick that found its way behind the goal rather than in the box. The lack of scoring weighed on the whole team before Migli brought it home.
“We just talked about what we could do better,” Migli said. “And we really were just like, ‘We need to work for each other.’ And we remembered that first game winning against Wake Forest [and wanting to get] that feeling back. It definitely did take a toll on us, but hopefully the funk is gone.”
After Migli’s goal, the scoring opportunities dried up again, with Duke only taking three more shots the remainder of the evening. But it wasn’t for lack of trying—in fact, the Blue Devils may have been trying too hard to produce the second goal they so desperately wanted.
“We would’ve broken their spirits [with a second goal], and we never could break their spirits,” Church said. “We just never could get that second goal. And we had some chances at it—not great [chances], but some chances. We forced some balls, we gave some bad balls, we forced some passes trying to score that second goal. I think if we had been a little bit more patient and we kept the ball a little bit more and moved them side-to-side, came from the outside in, I think it would’ve been a lot cleaner and probably [created] some better scoring opportunities.”
Lucky for Duke, it didn’t need any more scoring to win the match, as its defensive back line turned in another fantastic performance, anchored by seniors Caitlin Cosme and Taylor Mitchell.
The Blue Devils came into the match knowing it would be a physical battle against a Clemson team that had more size than them. But when you’ve got women’s soccer legend Carla Overbeck coaching you on defense, you learn to not back down. And that’s exactly what happened Sunday, despite a number of set pieces by Clemson (3-2-0, 2-2-0 in the ACC) that included eight corner kicks. Sophomore goalkeeper Ruthie Jones continued to impress, with a trio of saves in the second half, including helping to stop a ball that was inches from rolling across the goal line.
Looking forward, Duke has just one home matchup remaining against Virginia Tech this Friday before a five-game road trip rounds out the regular season.
“We needed this,” Church said of Sunday's win. “We’re so close in all our games. We needed to come out on the right side of one of these games so bad, so I’m just really, really proud of this group. I want us to continue to get better, though. We didn’t create enough. I think we only had five shots this game and that’s not enough—that’s not enough going forward.
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"So we’ve got work to do, especially on the offensive side. And we do have some players that aren’t as confident right now as they need to be. They’ve lost a little bit of confidence and we got to figure out, ‘How do we help those players? How do we get their confidence back?’ Because we need them going forward.”
Editor's note: A previous version of this story listed Duke's scoreless streak at 258 minutes instead of 278. The Chronicle regrets the error.