Senior Day is always an occasion for celebration. The Blue Devils' autumn struggles meant little, as, one-by-one, members of Duke’s class of 2023 were honored at midfield, their families there to greet them as the PA read off career accomplishments. Sarah Piper’s shutout games, Emmy Duerr’s NCAA tournament-debut brace, Ruthie Jones’ historic goals-against average, Sophie Jones’ numerous accolades—whether they were likely off to the NWSL or to grad school, it was a chance to inject a little positivity near the end of the regular season.
Still, No. 10 Duke created more than just a little positivity Sunday afternoon at Koskinen Stadium, trouncing Louisville 4-0, snapping a two-game winless streak. Forwards Michelle Cooper and Kat Rader both recorded a brace, while Cooper and wing back Delaney Graham each added a pair of assists. Every healthy Blue Devil saw the field (Julia Hannon, Carina Lageyre, and Baleigh Bruster were out, head coach Robbie Church told The Chronicle), and every healthy senior got at least 17 minutes. The win marked the program’s biggest scoring output in a Senior Day/Night game since 2015, moving Duke to 9-0-1 over its past 10 such matches.
“What a great Senior Day,” said Church. “And it started early yesterday, with our senior banquet, and we had a wonderful meal honoring our seniors, we had great speeches. We could feel the love in that room for our seniors—[how] our underclassmen spoke about them, you could just feel the love and the impact that all our seniors have had on this program.”
“Of course we’re lucky to be at Duke, [but] Koskinen over [my] four years has come to mean so much to me,” said senior goalie Ruthie Jones. “And it's been really special. We've had a lot of, really, any kind of emotion on this field, and it means so much that we can sort of end it in such a positive way. It's really exciting, and, of course we have so much to look forward to. I know we'll be back, and I'm excited for that too.”
Late in the first half, Duke (11-4-1, 6-2-1 in the ACC) was nearing a 200-minute-long scoreless drought, but most of the first half was just the flood building up behind the levee. The Louisville (6-7-2, 3-6 ACC) levee finally broke in the 40th minute, with Cooper finishing off perfect services from Delaney and Maggie Graham. Freshman midfielder Devin Lynch kicked off the attack with a chip pass that skipped over multiple Cardinals to Cooper. A couple passes later, Maggie Graham drew a two-on-one at the wing and sent a through pass to Delaney Graham, who knocked an open crosser to Cooper.
Lynch jump-started another Cooper score in the 49th minute, knocking a back heel pass upfield to lead Cooper past the Louisville back line. With only Cardinal goalie Erynn Floyd to beat, Cooper didn’t miss the chance to double Duke’s lead. Cooper hunted for her first-career hat trick, just missing a couple aerial shots within the next three minutes.
Even without a hat trick, Cooper seemed content to add to her points total; in the 65th minute, she drew attention at midfield before passing up and out to a Rader who outran and crossed up her defender, and in the 70th minute, she crossed a perfect 40-yard service from Maggie Graham to an unmarked Rader. Both times, Rader finished off the possession with that touch a diving Floyd couldn’t reach. There was a longer break than usual between those two goals, however: Just before Rader’s first score, Louisville forward Ravin Alexander kicked Duke forward Mackenzie Pluck in the face while they both tried to get up off the turf; the referee spent several minutes after the goal reviewing whether the kick warranted a red card.
“[The scoring] may be even better that it was Senior Day, it meant so much more to us,” said Cooper. “To finally put it away for them and allow them all to work their butts off today was just fantastic.”
The Blue Devils came close to tacking on more goals in the late second half. A through pass found Maggie Graham running past the Cardinal center backs, but she couldn’t get enough mustard on her shot to get past Flynn. A few minutes later, Floyd overran a sideline service from Sophie Jones, but a couple of Louisville defenders recovered quickly enough to block a pair of shots. Cooper nearly deflected a Flynn clearance to secure a hat trick.
Duke and its fans didn’t have much time to maintain that positive energy, though. Just three minutes in, Cooper pushed ahead a transition ball, forcing a tough play for Louisville center back Sarah Hernandez and goalie Erynn Floyd. Hernandez boxed out Cooper while Floyd cleared upfield, but Cooper’s speed brought the two together, and Floyd’s kick struck Hernandez in the face from point-blank range. The center back collapsed and remained out cold for several minutes before being helped off the field.
The Blue Devils retook the field for a corner kick, unveiling a new short corner kick formation. It didn’t lead to an on-target shot, but it was clear that the Duke offense had more juice this time around than it had at Clemson. By the time Cooper scored the opening goal, the Blue Devils had already exceeded their shots on goal from the Thursday prior.
“I was really proud. It’s time that we make a statement,” said Church. “It’s time that we make that stand that ‘hey, good things are coming through Duke. You have to come through Duke.’ And that was the first one, and we’re looking forward to getting on the plane and going to Notre Dame, and it’s going to be a very difficult match… But we're ready for that challenge.”
The Blue Devils will conclude their regular season Thursday against the Fighting Irish on the road.
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