On the surface, No. 7 Duke’s 19-9 win against East Carolina might appear like yet another inconsequential nonconference blowout, the sixth straight in what has been a dominant start to the season for the Blue Devils.
But to head coach Kerstin Kimel, Monday’s contest was anything but inconsequential.
Because on the other sideline down the field from Duke stood her daughter Frances “Caroline” Kimel, a junior attack and East Carolina’s leading point-getter. The Blue Devils and Pirates have matched up each season since Caroline Kimel's freshman year in 2020, and every time, her mom has to overcome the same challenges.
“Every year I'm like, ‘Oh it's not a big deal,’ and it is actually kind of hard because you want her to do well and I want her team to do really well but obviously this is a day where we want to make sure Duke prevails,” Kerstin Kimel said after the game. “And Caroline's evolved into a really nice player for them. She's the leading scorer and everything kind of runs through her on offense. So she has to kind of be at the top of the scouting report and minimizing her impact was a priority for us, and I think our kids did a good job of that tonight.”
Caroline Kimel finished with just one goal and no assists, a notch below her 5.3 points per game coming into Monday, but that doesn’t mean the contest wasn’t a special moment for her and her family. Both her dad, Jack, and younger sister, Claire, were in the stands cheering her on, the latter wearing a split shirt and holding a split sign with Duke (6-0) and East Carolina (4-1) colors.
“I think every time I come back to Koskinen, it's definitely a certain feeling,” Caroline Kimel said. “I grew up here in the stands and it's cool for it to come full circle and us to kind of be able to play each other every year…. Try my best to avoid eye contact [with my mom] the whole game—literally the whole game—but it’s definitely something really special that I look forward to every year.”
With Caroline Kimel developing into the Pirates’ leading offensive talent, one might wonder if there was ever a shot at her playing for her mom at Duke. But Kerstin Kimel said her daughter “wanted to go away” from home, and that she’s glad they “really only cross paths once a year and [she] can root her on and cheer for her.”
Plus, even disregarding her talents with the ball in her stick, Caroline Kimel serves as a valuable resource whenever the Pirates take on the Blue Devils.
“In scout, [my coaches] will be like, ‘What do you know?’ And like kind of make jokes at me—it’s always fun,” Caroline Kimel said with a laugh of the advantages she gets playing against her mom. “But yeah, I’m kind of familiar with their style of play.”
Despite all of the background noise that came with this unique matchup, there was still a game to play Monday, and Kerstin Kimel had her team ready to play. Duke—which entered the game with No. 1-ranked scoring offense in the country—continued what has been a season-long onslaught, jumping out to a 12-3 lead by halftime and never looking back.
By game’s end, 13 different players scored a goal for Duke, the kind of offensive balance that has become a mainstay this season and what Kimel calls the backbone of her team’s success thus far. Preseason All-ACC attack Catriona Barry led the way with four goals and six total points, but five other Blue Devils also notched multiple points.
“We share the ball. We don't really care who scores,” Kimel said. “We just want points on the board.”
Nevertheless, there’s still some room for improvement coming out of the win. East Carolina outscored Duke 5-3 in the final quarter, and while some of that can be attributed to the substitutions that come with such a lopsided score, there is no doubt the Blue Devils had some trouble stopping the ball on the defensive end.
“I think our defensive efficiency has to be better,” Kerstin Kimel said. “Thought we gave up too many goals, especially eight meters. And one of the things we talked about afterwards—we have to practice those better from a defensive standpoint moving forward with our season.”
The Blue Devils get a few days to recalibrate before their first real test of the year Sunday at No. 3 Syracuse.
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