Duke women’s lacrosse's comeback bid against North Carolina falls just short on Senior Day

Sophomore Olivia Carner tallied four goals against North Carolina.
Sophomore Olivia Carner tallied four goals against North Carolina.

Down just a score with 17 seconds to go, the Blue Devils had an opportunity to win the draw, score and send the game to overtime. 

But, after securing every draw control in the second half prior to this point, the Blue Devils couldn’t get it done on the most important one of the match, and the Tar Heels ran out the clock, extending their win streak against Duke to 12 straight.

It was a classic contest in the Tobacco Road rivalry, with all the players giving it their all and both teams deserving of a win. But when the final whistle sounded at Koskinen Stadium Friday night, it was No. 7 Duke that found itself on the short end of the stick, losing 12-11 in a heartbreaker. Prior to the game, the Blue Devils had honored 13 seniors and graduate students, all of whom have never won against No. 1 North Carolina since Duke’s last victory in the rivalry came in 2014. 

“Even though we're disappointed in the loss, I'm obviously really proud of how we competed, particularly in the second half,” Duke head coach Kerstin Kimel said. “We can play with anybody when we set our mind to it. And so, this scoreboard is going to motivate us moving forward as we head into the postseason.”

The last 16 minutes were a back-and-forth battle. Every time the Tar Heels scored, the Blue Devils followed it up with one of their own. Neither team could find the upper hand and with the score knotted at 11-11 going into the final minute, it looked like the Blue Devils would head into overtime, just as the men's lacrosse team had the night before.

But North Carolina had one last chance and made the most of it. Duke goalkeeper Sophia LeRose, who had made a number of clutch saves in the second half to keep the momentum in the Blue Devils' favor, made another on a Tar Heel free position shot. But the rebound off the save moved faster than she could get back in position, and North Carolina found its opening and put itself up for good. 

However close the game may have ended, for much of the first half, it didn’t look like we’d be talking about a close game at all. With less than two minutes until halftime, the Tar Heels held an 8-1 lead and all the momentum. But the Blue Devils (9-6, 4-6 in the ACC) refused to go down that easy. 

In a callback to their efforts against North Carolina (15-0, 9-0) in its first matchup of the season, Duke went back to work. Senior Abby Landry struck first, scoring the first Blue Devil goal in nearly 25 minutes. Sophomore Olivia Carner followed up with one of her own, bringing the Tar Heel lead down to 8-3 heading into halftime. 

You don’t get to be one of the winningest coaches in NCAA women’s lacrosse history without a few aces up your sleeve, and Kimel certainly showed that Friday night because whatever she said during halftime—it worked. 

“I think that we really challenged the team at halftime to compete harder,” said Kimel. “And to, particularly on the offense, run our systems and trust each other. And they did just that in the second half.  [We] went on a great run to get us back in the game, and then put ourselves in a position where we could have won the game.”

To start off the second half, the Blue Devils picked up right where they left off, rattling off three goals in less than two minutes. After struggling on the draw in the first period, draw control specialist Maddie Jenner showed why she’s one of the best in the nation, helping Duke secure possession for each of those goals. 

The Tar Heels were able to briefly put a stop to Duke’s string of dominance with a goal of their own, but it didn’t last long. Carner decided that one goal wasn’t enough for her and scored two straight, and ended with four on the night. Transfer Gabby Rosenzweig added her second of the game shortly after and just like that, the game was tied. 

“[Carner’s] been sick all week. She didn't even practice yesterday. She's just been battling. But we know she's a gamer. And we knew she would come out and give that kind of effort," Kimel said. "She had a hot hand and we continued to set her up to score. She's an awesome competitor and a great two-way player for us and super proud of her effort.”

Losing is never fun, and losing a rivalry game is even worse. But, if anything, the Blue Devils should only be more confident going forward. They went toe-to-toe with the consensus best team in the country, which has now won 22 matches in a row and boasted an 11-goal margin of victory prior to Friday's contest. They scored more goals against the Tar Heels than anyone else has all season, and held them to their third-lowest scoring output of the year too. 

With the Blue Devils set to take the field again April 28 in the ACC tournament, look for them to make a run and show that they can compete with any team in the country. 

“We're pretty confident we're gonna see Notre Dame,” Kimel said. “We're going to be in the four or five game, which I think is great, because if I had to pick a game that was probably our worst performance overall, it was probably Notre Dame, we really did not play well. So we have our work cut out for us—everybody's fighting for seedings in the [NCAA] tournament. But anybody there in the middle of the pack, we'd be happy to play again.”


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