RALEIGH—When it rains, it pours.
No. 5 Duke survived an early downpour Sunday to drown the 22nd-ranked Wolfpack 6-0 at Dail Soccer Field. The Blue Devils recorded their highest-ever scoring output against N.C. State, their first six-goal game against an ACC opponent since 2013. Sophomore forward Michelle Cooper set a career-high in points with six, including one goal in the sixth minute and another just 45 seconds into the second half, while freshman striker Kat Rader tied her career-high in points, graduate student Mackenzie Pluck recorded a brace and junior defender Katie Groff had two assists.
“I think our chemistry is just getting 10 times better,” Pluck said after the game. “I think just knowing how we work, who wants the ball at [their] feet, who wants the ball at [their] head. And just the rhythm of the game, not just the offense—the midfield is connecting, and I think just having that rhythm now is making us really dangerous. And we just gotta keep it going and find each other's feet and put it in the back of the net when it's needed.”
For the sixth time this season, Duke (8-2, 3-0 in the ACC) played in front of a crowd more than a thousand strong—but the seats of Dail Soccer Field were cleared out by the second minute; weather forecasts showing rain had come to fruition, and a clear night quickly turned into a downpour. It was, if anything, a warning sign from the soccer gods, an attempt to drive away fans of N.C. State (6-3-3, 1-2) so they would not have to suffer through the following 88 minutes.
The Blue Devils spent most of the storm living in the attacking third. Cooper got Duke on the board in the sixth minute from nearly 30 yards out, blasting a rocket between the Wolfpack center backs to the near-post upper 90. A couple of minutes later, the Blue Devils doubled their lead off a free kick in the attacking third, as Pluck corralled a Wolfpack header and played some pinball with a shot that found the back corner of the net.
The rain began dissipating shortly thereafter, most of the initial crowd returning to their seats and defying the soccer gods’ warning. The crowd made its presence known in the 37th minute, heavily objecting to a textbook slide tackle from Duke center back Baleigh Bruster that saved a one-on-one Wolfpack counter. They got even louder a minute later, after an N.C. State free kick from 25 yards out led to a shot from Wolfpack center back Jenna Butler at the near post. The PA announcer called it a goal, sending the crowd into a frenzy—even as Butler herself appeared to question whether she had truly scored.
Only after Blue Devil goalie Ruthie Jones retrieved the ball from behind the net did the Wolfpack faithful realize what had happened.
Duke took four more shots (two on goal) by the half but nearly found the net in the 45th minute. Cooper started a counter and survived a couple of tackle attempts to thread a through pass to wingback Delaney Graham, who crossed a perfect ball to striker Grace Watkins. N.C. State goalie Maria Echezarreta deflected the shot with one hand, but it did not take long for the Blue Devils to find their third goal; shortly after halftime, Pluck found a one-on-one in the corner, crossed up a fullback, and served an aerial cross right to Cooper in the goal area.
For the second-straight game, Cooper showed off an unbeatable vertical leap and blasted a header down past Echezarreta for a brace.
“I haven't been working on the vert, but headers are something I always wanted to improve on,” said Cooper. “So it's been really nice to see that play out well this season.”
Cooper flipped the script eight minutes later, advancing the ball from the midfield to Pluck, who was running with a Wolfpack defensive line that found itself too far upfield to get set against her possession. Pluck forced N.C. State center back Lulu Guttenberger right with a stepover, got to her left foot and shot near post past a diving Echezarreta. Just like that, Duke had its first four-goal game against a ranked opponent since 2019.
“I usually like to assist Michelle because I know where she is, but it was nice to get it on my side this time and put it in the back of the net,” said Pluck. “It's definitely good for confidence moving forward against [Virginia] and bigger teams too.”
Just five minutes after that, Cooper turned a failed Wolfpack counter into a Blue Devil transition chance and threaded a through pass to a barely-onside Rader. The freshman settled it and had only Echezarreta to beat from 15 yards out for her fifth goal in her past eight games. Attacking midfielder Maggie Graham added Duke’s sixth score off a corner kick after Rader redirected to her a header from Groff.
“We could see this thing coming,” said Blue Devil head coach Robbie Church. “Our coaching staff has done a fantastic job. It's been a struggle a lot to kind of figure out what to play and where to play players and where they go and what's the best fit for us. And they've worked extremely hard on that … It was a great week; we get two ACC wins, we get two clean sheets, we get two shutouts. But a lot of soccer to be played. We got a big game coming up. But we'll move forward and look forward to playing on Friday night.”
That Friday game comes against Virginia, which rose to No. 2 in this week’s poll after a win in Chapel Hill, but lost Thursday 1-0 to No. 18 Notre Dame.
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