After a dominating 24-8 win against William & Mary last Wednesday, the 12th-ranked Blue Devils came into their first ACC matchup of the season looking to continue their hot start. But early on, it was the 17th-ranked Hokies doing the celebrating, as they quickly shot ahead and handed Duke its first deficit of the season. Luckily for the Blue Devils, they had an ace in their pocket: Sophia LeRose.
The junior goalkeeper stepped up after replacing Chase Henriquez between the posts less than halfway through the first half, anchoring the Duke defense on its way to a 12-8 win Sunday afternoon against its first ranked opponent of the season.
“Every game we're trying to be very intent on learning things about ourselves,” Duke head coach Kerstin Kimel said, “so that we can think about what our next steps are going to be. So yeah, we have a tough slate [of games]. But I'm really, really proud of our team. I thought today was a really good step forward. Our goal is to get better every game.”
Prior to LeRose making her appearance, the Blue Devils (3-0, 1-0 in the ACC) found themselves in an early 3-1 hole, as the usually dominant Maddie Jenner couldn’t find her groove at the draw. Duke stayed composed, bringing itself back to tie the game at 3-3, but just couldn’t pull ahead. The Hokies and Blue Devils went back and forth, trading goals for the next few minutes.
Then, when Duke found itself down 5-4, Kimel sent in LeRose, and the rest is history.
It’s almost as if a collective switch was flipped for every member of the Blue Devil defense once LeRose made her way onto the field. Their coverage was tighter, their switches were quicker and they played tougher. And it wasn’t long before Duke’s suddenly-suffocating defense gave the offense a chance to notch a few goals and retake the lead, heading into halftime up 7-6.
“Anytime you make a change in goal, it gets the defense's attention,” Kimel said. “Sometimes when you change goalies, it's a change agent, and it kind of flips that switch, like we need to tighten up. And to our defense’s credit, they gave Sophia an opportunity to make saves, in terms of they affected the shot and the drive to goal. She did an awesome job stepping in there, totally confident, composed, even after she got taken out down there.”
While LeRose may have gotten literally knocked down in a hit that will certainly leave her with a sore neck for a few days, she never left the game and totaled eight saves in 45 minutes. Women’s lacrosse is a dog-eat-dog world—as made evident by the combined four yellow cards between the two teams—and in this match, it was a Blue-Devil-eat-turkey world that doesn’t leave any room for staying down when you get knocked over.
“Yeah, I got trucked. It didn't feel good in the moment,” LeRose said. “It was definitely a really physical game, but we knew it was going to be physical—we know Virginia Tech. And we're both very competitive teams. So going into the game, it wasn't a surprise. I just knew I had to get back up and help my team out. And again, just be tough through the final minutes.”
But it was more than just a few minutes that LeRose had left to play after she got back up—there were over 23 minutes left in the second half, and the Blue Devils were only up by a single goal, a precarious lead in the world of lacrosse.
The Blue Devils’ upperclassmen quickly rattled off three goals, though, giving Duke a 10-6 advantage. Virginia Tech (1-1, 0-1) would only find the net twice more the rest of the game.
When it was all said and done, nine different players scored for the Blue Devils, exceeding the Hokies' total number of goals.
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“We have a lot of different threats,” Kimel said. “And our goal is to be the most versatile, dynamic offense that we can possibly be. Anybody can score and they can score in different ways.”
While LeRose finished with career highs in minutes and saves, she didn’t let it go to her head—ever humble, she gave much of the credit to her team.
“I was just ready for any shot that was coming my way. I think the defense really gave me great looks and shots. So those were saves I needed to make. For the most part, a lot of the shots that I saw my way were pretty easy ones to turn the ball the other way. There are definitely a couple where I felt like it got a little frantic. But overall, I think our defense played their heart out.”
In just three short games, the Blue Devils have shown both just how overwhelming they can be on offense and how strong they can stand on defense. In their next matchup, they’ll need to figure out how to combine the two, as they travel down Tobacco Road to take on top-ranked North Carolina Friday at 6 p.m.
“Our team is very confident that we can score [and] we took a huge step forward defensively today,” Kimel said. “We have to take that momentum into the game Friday at Carolina because they're like us—they've got a ton of different kids who can score in different ways. So we'll need to put together a great game plan to go down and try to beat the Heels in Chapel Hill.”