No. 11 Duke women’s lacrosse continues to struggle against elite competition, falls to Syracuse

Duke fell to its second top-2 opponent in the span of eight days.
Duke fell to its second top-2 opponent in the span of eight days.

It may have been a home game for the Blue Devils, but they were the ones sent packing Saturday afternoon, falling 15-5 to a Syracuse team that dominated both sides of the ball.

No. 11 Duke was coming off its best defensive performance of the season, a 16-4 beatdown of East Carolina last Sunday, and you could tell the Blue Devils were hungry for an upset win after their hard-fought loss to No. 1 North Carolina last Friday. And for the first 10 minutes against the second-ranked Orange, it looked like they might get it.

Early on, both teams were showing why they deserve their top rankings, going back and forth across the field. Syracuse struck first, but Duke junior Maddie Jenner responded less than a minute later, showing that she can do more than just dominate on the draw as she put it past Syracuse’s Asa Goldstock to make it a 1-1 game. 

Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, that would be the only goal they’d score in the first half. 

“I think our performance was pretty disappointing,” head coach Kerstin Kimel said. “I think we expected to play better. You know, certainly Syracuse is a really good team. Their defense really rattled our offense. We kind of allowed ourselves to play into their hands and the way they wanted to play the game.”

In many ways, Duke's performance against the Orange mirrored last weekend’s matchup against the Tar Heels, albeit on a slightly different time scale. In both games, the Blue Devils hung around early before being held scoreless for an extended period of time, while their opponent went on an offensive tear. In Saturday's matchup, however, that tear started early, as Syracuse went on to score nine unanswered goals to head into halftime up 10-1.

And no matter how much you want it, trying to make up a nine-goal differential while at the same time holding your top-5 opponent scoreless is no walk in the park. 

But early in the second half, it at least looked like the Blue Devils might take a stab at it, as sophomore Ainsley Thurston finally found a weak spot in the Orange’s zone and put it out of Goldstock’s reach, cutting the Blue Devils' deficit to 10-2. That was as close as Duke (4-2, 1-2 in the ACC) would get all afternoon, though, as Syracuse (3-0, 1-0 in the ACC) quickly notched two goals over the next 2:13. 

From there, the rest of the game went back and forth with each team looking fairly evenly matched, but the Blue Devils never found that streak of goals that would bring them back into contention. 

“From a mental standpoint, a loss to Syracuse isn't fatal,” Kimel said. “But I think what we have to fix is the way we lost. The last few games [have been] uncharacteristically low scoring game[s] for us from an offensive output standpoint. So I think that's the first place that we need to look, to make sure that we get ourselves back on track and put ourselves in a position where we can finish our shots and score better.”

Despite the negatives of the day, which included five yellow cards against Duke alone, there were a handful of positives for the team to take away. The Blue Devils had offensive opportunities—they just couldn’t capitalize on them. Meanwhile, they held Syracuse to its lowest scoring output of the season.

“The loss of Syracuse only becomes fatal if we don't allow ourselves the ability to learn and get better moving forward,” Kimel said. “And that's both from a coaching standpoint, and from our players’ standpoint. If we have the attitude that playing these two top teams, and having them expose some things that we need to improve on, then that's great. Moving forward, we're going to be fine, and I have a lot of faith and confidence in our older kids and our leadership that we’ll rebound well from this game.”

Duke will have the opportunity to show what it's learned against High Point Thursday.


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