Down just 10-7 with over nine minutes left in the second half and all the momentum on their side, the eighth-ranked Blue Devils were in position to make a comeback.
But the weather quickly turned dark, and so too did Duke’s chances of winning, as No. 4 Notre Dame rattled off three unanswered goals over the next six minutes, putting the game out of reach for the Blue Devils.
Despite the Blue Devils keeping it close in the second half, the Fighting Irish prevailed 13-9 Sunday at Koskinen Stadium, marking the first time this season that Duke has lost two games in a row after it dropped a 14-11 decision to No. 7 Virginia March 21. The Blue Devils are solidly in the upper echelon of women’s lacrosse, but remain in the middle of the pack in their own conference, unable to find that signature win that would vault them up the rankings.
Despite opening the day’s scoring off with a Caroline DeBellis goal that came via a beautiful assist from graduate student Gabby Rosenzweig, Duke (6-4, 2-4 in the ACC) appeared to be out of sync, and Notre Dame (5-2, 2-2) took advantage. The Fighting Irish, who have won six of their last seven against Duke, began to pull away early with a 4-0 run to put themselves up by three.
Duke freshman Katie DeSimone put a brief stop to the Notre Dame run by scoring on a free position shot, but that provided only a momentary break for Blue Devil goalie Sophie LeRose. The Fighting Irish proceeded to go on a second 4-0 run, though DeSimone stopped the bleeding once again with less than a minute to go in the half.
As the teams headed to the locker rooms for halftime, anyone casually glancing at the score might believe an 8-3 deficit was the result of a goalie simply struggling to stop any shots. But that was far from the case Sunday, as LeRose turned in eight saves in the first half.
Both teams exchanged goals back and forth to begin the second half. The Blue Devils weren’t going to let themselves be blown out like they had against other elite competition, but they couldn’t find that momentum shifting run of goals, either.
And then tragedy struck.
LeRose, who started this season on the bench before elevating herself to starter after proving herself in a gutsy win against Virginia Tech, came out of the goalie circle to make a play and collided in a mess of players. She fell to the ground and remained there for a number of minutes. Even when she was finally able to stand, she was clutching her right arm and forced to leave a game in which she was one of the sole forces keeping Duke competitive.
LeRose’s replacement, senior Chase Henriquez, hadn’t seen significant minutes in over two weeks. However, she came in and immediately made a significant save Sunday. Then, the Blue Devils scored two straight to make it 10-7, and it seemed like Duke was taking control.
But just as quickly as the spark appeared, it began to fade. The Blue Devils found themselves two players up after a series of Notre Dame penalties, but couldn’t find anything on offense. By the time Duke did score again, it was too late, as the team's two late-game goals were not enough.
The Blue Devils are at a turning point in their season. They’ve shown they can beat good teams and proved they can hang around with elite teams, as seen in holding Notre Dame to its slimmest margin of victory this season. But going forward, nothing is going to get easier for Duke, with three of its next five matchups coming against ranked opponents
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The missed transition opportunities will have to be refined, the number of yellow cards will have to be lowered and the Blue Devils will have to take advantage of man-up opportunities. If not, they’re at risk of further extending their losing streak when they travel to No. 5 Boston College next weekend.
Editor’s note: Duke head coach Kerstin Kimel could not be reached for comment following the loss after The Chronicle reached out to the team’s communications staff multiple times.