Kat Rader was face-to-face with Boston College’s Éabha O’Mahony.
At that moment in the 11th minute, Duke midfielder Maggie Graham sent a high ball across the field. The ball found Rader’s feet. Some quick footwork separated Rader from O’Mahony, but Rader reversed momentum quickly, using some extra touches to isolate herself from the Eagles’ defensive unit and create space. Nothing stood between Rader and the back of the net, despite the best efforts of Boston College goalie Wiebke Willebrandt, who leaped sideways—but Rader’s shot found air and bounced into the far-left corner of the goal, while Willebrandt came up empty-handed.
No. 5 Duke took down Boston College 3-0 Thursday evening in Koskinen Stadium in a match that proved that the Blue Devils' greatest defense is their offense.
“I think it was our best 90 minutes of the year that we’ve put together—from the opening minutes all the way through,” Church said after the game Thursday. “I’m very, very happy with the 90 minutes, especially scoring early.”
Rader found several scoring opportunities early on, sending four shots—three on goal—toward the Eagles’ net in the first half. Two of the freshman forward's scoring attempts came within a minute of one another in the 22nd minute, with Duke’s midfield finding her at the top of the box, allowing her to navigate a scrambled Boston College defense.
“In transition moments, and anytime we had the ball, I was just making sure I was an option, going forward for my teammates, and penetrating their back line and putting them under as much pressure as we could,” Rader said.
In the 36th minute, freshman forward Devin Lynch was swarmed by defenders at the edge of the six-yard box and opened up to find sophomore striker Michelle Cooper at the top of the penalty box. After a quick pass, Cooper prepared to drive toward the goal but was instead fouled by the Eagles’ Sophia Lowenberg. During the penalty kick, Willebrandt had no response for a quick send from Cooper into the bottom left of the net, remaining still in the center of the net as Cooper joined the Blue Devils (7-2, 2-0 in the ACC) to celebrate their second goal of the night.
Cooper logged her second goal of the night and the third overall for the Blue Devils in the 53rd minute after a well-placed feed from graduate midfielder Mackenzie Pluck from the top of the penalty box. Cooper beat the Eagles’ defense on the run, heading the ball into an empty net.
Rader and Cooper have been working on growing as a unit throughout the season, learning where to pick up for each other and how to generate opportunities to score.
“I think Michelle and I are learning how to play off each other; we’re growing, and each game, we’re getting more comfortable playing with each other,” Rader said of her dynamic with Cooper. “When one of us goes short, the other goes high … I think we’re really able to build off each other and it’s getting better and better each day.”
It was clear from the first few seconds of play that Duke’s offense would control the match. After kicking off and getting the ball towards Boston College's penalty box, Cooper fed the ball deep to Graham, the attempt quickly cleared by the Eagles (4-3-3, 0-2). These attempts defined the play of the first half, with Duke’s attack opportunities bouncing off of defenders’ bodies or being kicked out of bounds quickly.
Despite sloppy play from the four-back Boston College defensive setup, Duke was able to settle down plays, winning first balls and sending them back to its midfield or defense to move the ball around until an opportunity arose to bring the momentum forward again. Duke’s ability to recover in this way and work the ball around before rushing into goal-scoring opportunities helped it keep possession for 67% of the match.
“That’s who we are,” Church said of Duke’s possession. “That’s when we’re at our best. It eliminates transition, which has hurt us at different times. It eliminates us defending; our best defense is keeping the ball offensive.”
Aside from a ball that midfielder Emily Sapienza sent into the outside of Duke’s net, Boston College made very few statements on offense, ending the 90 minutes with only one shot on goal. The two strongest chances that the Eagles had came from corner kicks, with finishing attempts that easily found the hands of Duke goalkeeper Ruthie Jones.
Toward the end of the match, spectators saw some newer faces take the field. With 12 minutes left to go in the match, no starters were on the field for Duke, which has now featured a different starting lineup in each of its nine games this season.
“We’re very fortunate, and we’re very deep. … They all have very good soccer IQ. They’re very coachable, and they want a really good—this team wants to be really good,” Church said.
The Blue Devils are back in action Sunday, when they will face N.C. State in Raleigh at 7 p.m.
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Leah Boyd is a Pratt senior and a social chair of The Chronicle's 118th volume. She was previously editor-in-chief for Volume 117.