Duke women’s lacrosse matches best start since 2006 with tight win at Virginia Tech

Duke held on late to win 15-14 against Virginia Tech.
Duke held on late to win 15-14 against Virginia Tech.

BLACKSBURG, Va.—Nothing in the ACC comes easy. Road games are even harder. And Thursday night in Blacksburg, the Blue Devils came face-to-face with seeing their seven-game winning streak snapped. 

It was a matchup in the mountains, as this game featured more peaks and valleys than the Blue Ridge range that surrounds Virginia Tech’s campus. But after seven ties and with a strong contingent of Hokie fans decrying their every move, the Blue Devils squeaked past Virginia Tech 15-14 at Thompson Field to match their best start through 15 games since 2006, a year in which Duke reached the semifinals of the NCAA tournament. And a year in which, coincidentally, Virginia Tech head coach Kristen Skiera was playing at Duke.

Skiera was a two-time All-American and Tewaaraton Award semifinalist while playing for the Blue Devils and her name is all over the Duke record books, ranking second in assists, third in points and fourth in goals for her career. This season is her first at Virginia Tech and, despite the Hokies' middle-of-the-road 8-7 (2-5 in the ACC) record, the team is leaps and bounds better than last year’s, when they went 5-11 overall and 1-8 in conference play. Prior to this year, the Hokies hadn’t won more than a single conference game in a season since 2018.

“She’s done an amazing job so far,” Duke head coach Kerstin Kimel said of Skiera’s work with the Hokies this season. “If you look at how this team was performing this time last year, and where they are now, I think she's doing a great job. She's worked in a lot of different places, including Duke, but she's been around great lacrosse and great team cultures. And so it's not surprising at all, to me, that she is in the process of really turning this program into a great one.”

But in the battle between the old guard and the new, Duke (14-1, 5-1) maintained the advantage—even though it took until the very end to put it away. 

Coming into the third quarter, the game was tied at seven apiece, neither team able to find much of an edge. The first five minutes of the quarter bore a strong resemblance to the first half, with the Blue Devils and Hokies trading goals, neither able to find the comfort that some separation would provide. The majority of the next five saw a similar back-and-forth, just without any scoring. But with 5:45 to go, the Blue Devils decided that they had enough—it was time to put this game to bed so that they could make the late-night drive back to Durham to go to bed themselves. 

Over the next five minutes, the Blue Devils scored five goals, featuring five different goal-scorers. Graduate student Catriona Barry, usually one of Duke’s top goal-scorers, wasn’t being given any room to work, so she ran the point, tallying assists on the last three scores of the five-goal run. She ended the game with six assists, matching the single-game school record. 

“Cat did a great job of not trying to force the issue and just utilize what was open to her,” Kimel said. “As the season’s gone on, and she's done so well, she's drawn really good matchups and people are early to double her. She did a good job of not turning the ball over [and] moving the ball out of the double team that she was in to find open people, whether it was on a feed or just facilitating. She did a great job of adjusting throughout the game.”

With the Blue Devils holding a comfortable five-goal lead to open the final frame, most fans in the stadium likely thought this game was all but over. But the Hokies weren’t ready to throw in the towel just yet. 

It was a quarter of spurts from Virginia Tech. The Hokies scored one goal—Duke quickly responded with a score from junior midfielder Olivia Carner to bring the margin back to five. They scored two goals—sophomore attacker Katie DeSimone responded with a SportsCenter-worthy goal for her team-leading 51st score of the season. The Hokies then responded with three goals in a row, bringing themselves within one score with just 1:42 to go—the result of the game hinged on the ensuing draw control. 

And, as she has so often throughout her career but especially this year, Duke’s draw control leader Maddie Jenner came up big, securing her 18th draw of the day at the game’s most pivotal moment. A called timeout and an impressive game of keep-away allowed the Blue Devils to run down the clock and dash the Hokies' hopes of a resume-boosting win. With just seconds remaining after Duke’s final shot, Virginia Tech had no time for a play—the Blue Devils would escape Blacksburg with the victory. 

“She gives us life, she gives us possessions, she puts us in a position to score especially on a night when we’re not [getting] stops,” Kimel said of Jenner. “The draw here at the very end was huge; afforded us the ability to call timeout, get set up, and run the clock out. As the game goes on she gets better and better and better, because she’s able to adjust to what people were trying to do to her.”

At the start of the evening, it looked like it would be another Blue Devil runaway victory. Two quick goals from graduate student Abby Landry and DeSimone put Duke in the driver’s seat. But after a series of missed short shots and miscommunication on passes, it became clear that the Blue Devils weren’t just battling the Hokies—they were also battling themselves. A 3-0 Virginia Tech run gave the home team its first lead of the night and, over the next two quarters, the teams passed the lead back and forth. Neither squad found more than a single goal of separation until Duke’s third-quarter run. 

While the final score was not as lopsided as the Blue Devils may have wanted, it revealed an important truth about the team—they can win in close games. Duke was surely the more talented squad but the Hokies were hungry. The Blue Devils’ usually-electric transition offense never found its rhythm and their talented goalie Sophia LeRose had an off-night. Despite that, they persevered, and with the post-season coming up, there are few qualities more important. 

“It's huge,” Barry said of the team’s ability to ride out a close game to victory. “Especially having made the bus trip yesterday, and then playing a late-night game, it was a huge test of our ability to come out, show up and come out with the win. So this was a huge test for us. And our ability to come up with the win is great going into [the] back end of our season.”

The Blue Devils will get their longest break of the season—nine days—before facing off against No. 2 Boston College in their final home game of the season April 16. 


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