CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA.—In the minutes leading up to kickoff, the Klöckner Stadium sprinklers showered the Blue Devils. Two cutthroat hours later, it was the Cavaliers raining on Duke’s parade.
The box score read that Virginia outshot Duke on goal four to zero after the first half, but the quality of its scoring chances were nearly even. The second half quickly proved a different story.
After having only four touches in the entire first half, Virginia's Alexa Spaanstra doubled that in the first 15 minutes of the second half, generating two golden scoring chances. The first was saved by centre back Katie Groff barrelling in from the side. The second came when Spaanstra was fouled by Groff, setting up a direct kick 30 yards out.
The kick was initially turned away, but when it ricocheted right to an unmarked Diana Ordoñez. There was no chance of keeping it out of the net.
The second-ranked Blue Devils made the trip to Charlottesville, Va., for a Thursday night matchup against No. 7 Virginia. Duke received late notice that it would miss the services of forward Michelle Cooper and wing back Olivia Migli due to health and safety protocols, and the effect of their absences on the Blue Devils’ offense was pervasive. After a scoreless first half, the Cavaliers punched one into the back of the net to send Duke home with a 1-0 loss and its first defeat of the season.
“I thought we responded really well to losing those players. You have no other choice,” head coach Robbie Church said. “We're playing one of the top teams in the country, we're playing on their field. You gotta go play. You gotta respond. We have a bunch of winners. We have a bunch of kids with high character. And they responded like I thought they would respond, too.
“So it's disappointing, it's sorry for them, sorry for our team that we weren't at full strength—but there's no excuses. Virginia beat us. They were better, they got the goal, they found a way to get a goal. I thought we responded phenomenally the last 35 minutes.”
Duke (7-1, 1-1 in the ACC) gained possession a few minutes into the game, and maintained control for most of the first half. The Cavaliers’ best opportunity in the early going was negated by a lunging save by Duke goalie Ruthie Jones in the 12th minute on a Haley Hopkins shot slicing up and away. For the next 20 minutes, the Blue Devils executed a handful of counters that nearly resulted in goals, and pressure by the Duke frontline kept Virginia (9-1, 2-0) moving backwards whenever it held possession at midfield.
The Blue Devils could only keep the ball away from Virginia’s forwards for so long, though. And the Cavaliers nearly opened the scoring a couple times in the last 15 minutes of the first half. When Virginia made its first substitution of the game, Spaanstra moved from right winger to left and immediately crossed-up Blue Devil wing back Delaney Graham to create an open shot from wide.
Once again, only a fingertip save from Ruthie Jones stood between a near-post Virginia goal and a cleared shot.
After the opening score, Jones would be tested plenty for the rest of the night, with the Cavaliers barraging the Duke goal with seemingly threatening but mostly harmless shots. After combining for just seven first-half touches, Virginia’s star attacking duo of Spaanstra and Ordoñez more than doubled that mark in the second half.
The Blue Devils continued to try to create an equalizer on counters, but didn’t once find themselves a player up. Without that advantage, not a single shot was as close as their first-half chances. Despite desperately trying to even the score in the closing minutes, the clock slowly trickled down, no comeback to be found.
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“We talked about in our huddle: how do we respond to this?” said Church. “We responded really well to positive stuff we've had; we've won games, we responded next and played really well in those [next] games. We have a little adversity here. Everybody goes through it. It's a long season, you run into adversity, and adversity can come in different forms. And we have it with players not being here. And we also have it taking our first loss of the season. I know this group, it's a high, high-character group. They're pissed.”
Playing a fairly even affair with the No. 7 team in the country, despite missing two of its five best offensive players, was of little solace to a team that was just one win away from matching its best start in program history.