The Blue Devils were playing in front of fans at home for the first time since March 2020, back when COVID-19 turned the sporting world (and rest of the world) on its head.
And there was no way they were going to disappoint the Duke faithful.
In its home-opener, No. 8 Duke blew past Gardner-Webb, relying on a hounding defense and an explosive offense to guide it to an easy 22-3 victory. Sophomore standout Katie DeSimone set a career-high in goals, with six and graduate student Catriona Barry, one of six graduate returners, set a new career-high in points with seven.
“I was not expecting that kind of atmosphere and it was awesome,” said Duke head coach Kerstin Kimel. “It was very similar to the way the soccer season felt—on a nice night like this, there were a lot of fans in the stands because people are just excited to be out and about and doing stuff and supporting our team. So it was awesome. It was a great night for us. Really proud of how our girls played.”
Tonight marked not only the first game of the season for Duke (1-0), but also a new format for the women’s lacrosse game in general—rather than playing halves, the Blue Devils would be taking on the Bulldogs in quarters. And through the first couple minutes of the opening quarter, it seemed the Blue Devils were both shaking off the nerves of playing their first game, as well as adjusting to the new, faster-paced format, culminating in DeSimone missing a wide-open goal on a breakaway opportunity.
After DeSimone’s miss though, Duke looked like a different team—it was on a mission and DeSimone was at the forefront of the offensive charge.
In one of its limited offensive opportunities, Gardner-Webb had a chance to take the lead and open the night’s scoring. But a staunch Duke defense limited each and every opportunity, collapsing on the Bulldogs whenever they made a move much past the eight-meter arc, ultimately taking them nearly all the way to the shot clock before recovering possession.
After that, between the offensive firepower that the Blue Devils were about to display and senior Maddie Jenner’s dominance on the draw control, Gardner-Webb would have to be content with just sitting back and watching Duke run up the score.
“The first game you're out here, there's gonna always be jitters. It didn't surprise me that it was a little tight there for the first few minutes of the game. But I thought our defense did a really good job. They did a really good job of being disciplined and being the mature, focused unit that they are and [they] executed our game plan to a tee,” Kimel said.
DeSimone opened up the scoring for Duke on the next possession off of a pinpoint shot, redeeming herself after the miss earlier in the night. Two-and-a-half minutes of messy possession later, Barry added another to Duke’s total off a quick underhand shot. From then after, the Blue Devils rattled off an impressive eight goals in eight minutes, featuring seven different goal-scorers.
A rocket from junior Anna Callahan, a crowd-favorite, brought the Duke lead to 4-0, before DeSimone and Barry combined for the next three goals, giving DeSimone a hat trick through just 10-and-a-half minutes (but don’t worry, she wasn’t nearly done with her scoring for the night). By the time the quarter ended, the Blue Devils were well on their way to victory, leading 10-0, thoroughly demoralizing the Bulldogs sideline.
“They blended tremendous speed, with aggression, but also being patient,” Kimel said about Barry and DeSimone. “For Cat, it’s her first full game playing straight offense. And she did a great job of setting the tempo for that unit. I thought we moved the ball incredibly well. [And] even though those two had dominating performances from a statistics standpoint, we had a lot of people score and we shared the ball incredibly well.”
The second quarter was a more even-sided affair, with DeSimone and Barry scoring Duke’s only two goals, and Gardner-Webb burying its first shot of the night, after over 20-minutes of scoreless lacrosse for the Bulldogs due in large part to the efforts of the Blue Devils’ defensive unit.
Coming out of halftime with a 10-goal lead allowed Kimel to get much of the roster involved, giving the freshmen some much needed experience on a roster loaded with talented upperclassmen. But, on the offensive side of things, the stars of the game weren’t quite ready to call it a night, with DeSimone tacking on two additional goals and Barry adding one more of her own, bringing them both to career-highs in goals scored.
On the opposite end of the field, Duke’s substitute goalies were getting some time in the cage, with freshman Kennedy Everson playing through the second and third quarters, and junior Shaye Fitzpatrick—playing in just her third career game—wrapping up the night between the pipes in the fourth.
The Blue Devils ended the night having given up just three goals—matching last season’s low for allowed goals—en-route to a 19-point margin of victory, their largest since a 20-0 win against Presbyterian in February 2019. Nearly as impressive as the margin was the number of Blue Devil substitutes who saw action tonight, totaling 18. On top of that, two of Duke’s star players who were coming back from injury, senior goalie Sophia LeRose and graduate student Katie Cronin, made returns, with LeRose starting the night off in goal and Cronin scoring two goals in the fourth quarter.
Up next, the Blue Devils face a quick turnaround and are set to travel to Elon on Sunday in the first of three straight road games.
“It's just another opponent,” Barry said of Elon. “We take it game by game. And we have to come out just as hungry, just as energized [as we were tonight] and hopefully come out with a win, just like we had tonight.”
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