In their first NCAA tournament game since 2016, the Blue Devils left no doubt in anyone’s mind as to why they came in as the No. 7 seed.
It was wire-to-wire domination for Duke as it took down Mount St. Mary’s 19-3 Friday at Koskinen Stadium in Durham. The Blue Devils came into the match having not played in over two weeks and riding a two-game losing streak, both one-goal heartbreakers, and the only player on their roster with any NCAA tournament experience was graduate transfer Gabby Rosenzweig. On the other hand, the Mountaineers, while similarly inexperienced in the NCAA tournament, were riding a 14-game winning streak into this match.
But when the first whistle blew, none of that mattered anymore. The Blue Devils jumped out to an early lead—their first in a game since their 13-7 win over Virginia Tech on April 17—and never looked back.
“One of the most important things that we really tried to emphasize [is] that despite the losses, we actually have been playing some of our best lacrosse of the season,” Duke head coach Kerstin Kimel said. “And I think that it takes a mature team to really appreciate that and not let the L's next to the games affect them negatively. I think our kids were just so happy to be here, they didn't let that affect them. So proud of our kids—it was a great team win.”
While it wasn't clear at the time, the opening draw control and ensuing possession scripted how much of the rest of the match would unfold.
Duke’s Maddie Jenner, who leads the ACC in draw controls and ranks second in the nation in the same category, stepped up to the center draw circle to square off against Mount St. Mary’s Abigail Zeigenfuse. After winning the draw, the ball took a couple of trips around the 12-meter fan before ending up in the stick of senior Catriona Barry. Starting at the top of the fan, Barry made a run toward the goal, turned a quick spin to lose a defender, and rifled a shot into the left-side of the goal for the score. From Jenner’s draw to Barry’s goal, just 52 seconds had elapsed.
The Blue Devils were just getting started, but before they could continue to display their offensive firepower, goalie Sophia LeRose—whose status for this game had been in question after being pulled from her last matchup with health concerns—had to step in and make a momentum-preserving save.
“[LeRose] really just got cleared yesterday,” Kimel said. “She's been able to kind of gradually work her way back into practice. So, I think today's got to give her a lot of confidence—she had a lot of time out of the cage over these last two weeks, and yet, the slow, kind of steady return-to-play protocol that she followed really still had her prepared to play a great game today.”
After LeRose's save, the next 15 minutes were all Duke and it shot out to an 8-0 lead with 10 minutes to go in the first half, with a number of different Blue Devils finding the back of the net and LeRose continuing to make huge saves on the defensive half of the field.
Mount St. Mary’s eventually got on the board with a goal with 9:58 to go in the first period but it hardly mattered, as the Blue Devils scored another six goals before the Mountaineers would find the back of the net again. And up until the final buzzer sounded, Duke continued to roll, never taking its foot off the gas.
“Teams that don't just survive and advance, but thrive and advance, never take their foot off the gas pedal,” Kimel said. “They really dialed in, because they know if we don't perform, we go home. We just don't want to take anything for granted at this time of the year.”
In a 19-3 blowout win, matching Duke’s largest margin of victory of the season, there are a lot of individual performances to recognize, from Katie DeSimone’s career-high seven points, to graduate senior Catherine Cordrey’s season-high-tying four goals, to freshman Maddie McCorkle scoring her first two career goals in an NCAA tournament game. But perhaps the most exciting moments of the game for any Blue Devil were a pair of goals scored near the end of the second half.
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Senior Madison Dunk and redshirt junior Mary Markwordt, both players on Duke’s “Dream Team”—which is what Duke refers to its scout team as—got to take the field. And they both made the most of the opportunity, with Dunk and Markwordt picking up their first goals of the season.
“There’s so much joy on the sideline watching those teammates,” Cordrey said. “Those players that don't necessarily get to come on the field that often come in and show off from the first minute they stepped on, it was just so great to watch from the sideline. We were so fired up seeing those girls go in and make something happen.”
The Blue Devils have a quick turnaround before their next tournament game, which is slated for Sunday in Koskinen Stadium once again. The opponent will be a little tougher this time around, as they’ll be facing off against defending-champion Maryland, but after a well-balanced attack complemented by a stout defense, the Blue Devils have shown they have the skills and confidence to win once again.
“It’s going to be a new game, and we're gonna have to have the same game plan where we're throwing the punch, and we're continuing to punch,” LeRose said. “It's going to be a harder game, but we're more than capable of pulling out a win on Sunday, so I'm excited for it.”