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No. 11 Duke women's soccer wraps regular season with draw at Notre Dame

Kat Rader scored Duke's second goal at Notre Dame, but the Fighting Irish struck back just moments later.
Kat Rader scored Duke's second goal at Notre Dame, but the Fighting Irish struck back just moments later.

As the clock struck 8 p.m. Thursday, the storyline of two teams, each with their own strengths and reasons for wanting the win—most notably seeding for the ACC tournament—looked to end their contest with one victor emerging. But the two teams experienced a fork in the road—a tie. And though the regular season ended in a way that neither side was likely hoping for, the lack of a winner means that the story of the 2022 Notre Dame and Duke teams may be just beginning.

No. 11 Duke journeyed to South Bend, Ind., for its last regular season contest. Competing with the fourth-ranked Fighting Irish on the hosting team’s Senior Night, the fight of both teams unequivocally matched the other’s energy. The game went back and forth, with the Blue Devils always taking the lead when there was one. In the end, a 2-2 draw flashed across the scoreboard and while Duke packed up and prepared for its return to Durham as the No. 5 seed in the conference tournament, the Fighting Irish cemented their status as the No. 3 seed.

“They were playing for the regular season championship … [and had] Senior Night on their field. They've had a great year; they've had a really big role here,” head coach Robbie Church said after the game. “They did have [possession], but again, we didn't feel overly concerned about the quality of chances. We tried to limit the risk that we had in our half of the field, and then we wanted to keep possession in their half of the field.”

In the 38th minute, graduate defender Jenna Royson fired the ball from the midfield line, reaching Michelle Cooper’s right foot. With just a few touches, the sophomore from Detroit sprinted straight toward her target, and with one lively 37-foot volley, placed the ball in the back of goalkeeper Mackenzie Wood’s net.

Notre Dame began the second half just as the game began—with possession. The Blue Devils had some quality on-ball touches and remained intense on the pitch, but the Fighting Irish would not go quietly. Notre Dame kept possession and turned it into a shot by senior midfielder Maddie Mercado, marking the Fighting Irish’s seventh shot on goal, all of which, at that point, were unsuccessful. 

Though the ball did not reach the back of the net, Royson came up on the ball but was unlucky just more than a minute later, awarding Notre Dame a penalty shot. Its recipient, sophomore Korbin Albert, nailed the opportunity. The contest was even again.

But the shooting from either fiery sideline would not stop there. After five more attempts by the Fighting Irish, Kat Rader, the sole Blue Devil freshman on the field, broke the tie. Passed the ball at the top of the penalty box, Rader found herself surrounded by two Notre Dame defenders. But with a cut back around the grass after receiving the ball, the freshman from Stuart, Fla., got around the Fighting Irish and forced the ball to the opposite side of the goal from Wood.

“It was just a matter of us technically getting the ball, playing a little bit quicker and connecting a little bit more passes,” Church said. “Then we were able to keep the ball in their half the field.”

The lead would not last long. In fact, in a game designed to make it extremely hard to score, the Fighting Irish were able to bounce back from the Blue Devils' 2-1 lead in a matter of seconds. Just 71 seconds after Rader’s goal, the game turned 2-2. Granted the ball by Kiki Van Zanten, Albert adjusted around several defenders before faking out Nicky Chico to get a shot far off from where senior goalkeeper Ruthie Jones stood. While Jones jumped up in one direction, Albert’s ball went the other and hit the back of the net for her second goal of the night.

Though Notre Dame began the game with possession, only losing it for seconds before getting it back, once Duke scored its first goal, the dynamic changed. Duke’s zest for winning proved itself after Cooper’s goal. The Blue Devils made stronger, more direct passes and the aggressiveness the group played with made it seem that they would control the rest of the game.

While Notre Dame focused its energy on getting shots on the board, marking 18 by the final whistle, Duke looked for worthwhile takes, finishing with seven shots, six of which were on goal. Only 11 of Notre Dame’s shots, on the other hand, were on goal. But even though the Fighting Irish had more attempts on goal, their placement allowed Jones an outstanding performance in the net with eight saves.

“They weren’t a lot of dangerous shots—there were a lot of shots that went wide, a lot of shots that went over, a lot of shots that went from a distance. So we weren’t concerned as much because they had some of them [shots], they just were not dangerous,” Church said. “I thought our defenders played well. I felt Nicky Chico and Jenna and Emily Royson played very well back there.”

Played truly until the final seconds, the match in the last minute turned into a penalty-filled one as Duke's Mackenzie Pluck and Notre Dame’s Eva Gaetino both received a yellow card. The match marked the first time since 2019 that the teams played one another, with the last time also ending in a 1-1 draw.

With the regular season ended, Duke will take its talents to Charlottesville, Va., Sunday night for a rematch of its 1-0 loss to Virginia earlier this month, and for a chance to reach the semifinals of the ACC tournament in Cary, N.C. 

“We were on the road in tough places—Florida, State, Clemson, Notre Dame, [some of]  the top teams in the country. So you know, we've been able to kind of weather that storm. Now we are going to run it again at Virginia. We're kind of used to being road warriors,” Church said. “But it's playing for a championship. And this is what we build our program on—winning championships.”


Ana Young | Assistant Blue Zone Editor

Ana Young is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle’s 118th volume.

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