Freshman forward Thorleifur Ulfarsson took matters into his own hands Sunday afternoon.
On a warm, overcast day in Charlottesville, Va., Ulfarsson's hat trick led the Blue Devils past Virginia 3-1. Duke was coming off a heartbreaking 4-3 double-overtime loss to then-No. 7 Pittsburgh March 19 and started off with a vengeance from the opening whistle against the Cavaliers, playing aggressive defense and putting pressure on the Virginia backline early.
Ulfarsson, known familiarly as Thor, has been able to create opportunities for much of the season but has struggled to capitalize on them. That all changed against Virginia, when he scored twice in the first half to give Duke a decisive lead.
“It was great to see Thor get off the mark early in the game,” head coach John Kerr said. “He’s been threatening to score on a regular basis, and now he’s scored in the last two games.”
Having played an excellent rookie season with little production to show for it, Ulfarsson finally scored his first goal of the year in the 71st minute of the Pittsburgh game. The Kopavogur, Iceland native struck early against Virginia as well when a clearance in the midfield led to an awkward situation for a Cavalier defender in the 11th minute, forcing the defender into a jump-ball with the athletic Ulfarsson. The 6-foot-1 forward won the ball, giving him an easy tap-in past Virginia goalkeeper Alex Rando.
Ulfarsson’s second goal came in the 31st minute when he was fouled just outside the box after tracking down a through ball sent by fellow freshman Santa Ihara. Ulfarsson demonstrated his composure, curling the ensuing free kick right over the wall past an outstretched Rando for a picture-perfect score into the upper left corner of the goal.
The Blue Devils (4-9-2, 2-2 in the ACC) went into the half with their largest lead of the season, but they did not let up. Duke maintained its forward-pushing playing style, and Ulfarsson scored his third goal in the 68th minute. Senior captain Jack Doran played a nifty pass to Conor Kelly right next to the goal, and when Kelly’s shot was deflected, Ulfarsson was there for the easy putaway off the rebound to complete his hat trick.
“It’s not just about the goals, it’s about bringing other players into the game,” Kerr said when asked what impressed him most about Ulfarsson.
The Blue Devil backline also played well, holding the Cavaliers (7-6-1, 2-2) scoreless on just four shots in the first half before finally giving up a goal to Virginia forward Kevin Ogudugu in the 85th minute. Duke’s defense has been a key for the team this year, and leading it has been junior goalkeeper Eliot Hamill, who tallied three saves against the Cavaliers to add to his already impressive total.
“When we communicate with each other, we’re a lot more solid defensively, and that was shown today. I mean Matthias Frick was flawless today, and Eliot was really good as well," Kerr said. "And when those two guys are on and they’re talking and organizing it really, really helps. I was proud of the way they went about their business today.”
Sunday's performance was especially important for the Duke offense as well, one that has struggled to convert on its opportunities all season.
“I have to give the group credit because we knew we played well [against Pittsburgh] and we just didn’t find a way to win," Kerr said. "And today we played well and we found a way to win, and it makes a big difference.”
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Duke will look to ride this high as it heads into its last two games of the regular season against N.C. State and North Carolina. The first of those games comes this Saturday against the Wolfpack, a team the Blue Devils beat twice in the fall.