Notre Dame outpaces Duke women's lacrosse in second half to hand Blue Devils' neutral-site loss

Senior attacker Carolina DeBellis in Duke's Feb. 10 win against Navy at Koskinen Stadium.
Senior attacker Carolina DeBellis in Duke's Feb. 10 win against Navy at Koskinen Stadium.

Despite clear skies and balmy weather Saturday afternoon at American Legion Memorial Stadium in Charlotte, Duke’s 14-6 loss to Notre Dame was all but sunny. 

When No. 11 Duke emerged from a competitive first half narrowly trailing 6-5, it looked like it was going to be a similar back-and-forth battle for the remaining 30 minutes. However, the second half proved to be anything but, as the Blue Devils’ attackers were smothered by the 13th-ranked Fighting Irish’s relentless defense, turning the ball over 20 times in total and only managing 13 shots on goal the entire game. Duke was outscored 8-1 in the second half as the Fighting Irish cruised to their third-straight win. 

“We couldn’t get comfortable in any of our offenses, we just were out of rhythm,” said head coach Kerstin Kimel after the game. “We’re struggling to find offense.”

Notre Dame jumped out to a quick lead in the first quarter, scoring three goals in under two minutes. Duke (4-2, 0-2 in the ACC) quickly corrected and scored three in a row of its own thanks to free position shots by graduate attacker Anna Callahan and junior midfielder Maddie McCorkle, plus a goal by sophomore attacker Carly Bernstein. Bernstein’s goal came off a feed behind the cage from senior attacker Caroline DeBellis.

Bernstein and DeBellis were a productive duo behind the cage in the second quarter as well, with Bernstein dishing out two assists and DeBellis notching a goal of her own. Notre Dame’s feisty defense made spreading the ball and finding the open man key for the Blue Devils to score. Four of their six total goals were assisted, with the other two being free position shots. The teams traded goals and it appeared as though this matchup might go down to the last possession. 

The second half is when the tide turned.

Notre Dame (4-1, 2-0) came out hot, and offensive blunders for Duke led to the Fighting Irish scoring five in a row in the third quarter before DeBellis’ quick stick on the doorstep stopped the bleeding with 36 seconds in the period. Nearly every time a Blue Devil had the ball, Notre Dame was able to cause a turnover or a bad decision. Duke’s offense looked to be in disarray, forcing passes into traffic and giving Notre Dame opportunities to regain possession. 

“I really think a lot of it was that we struggled to get on the same page, and we weren't communicating well,” Kimel said of the offense. “… We can't turn the ball over 20 times against anybody, let alone an ACC team, and I thought they did a great job of building momentum off of our mistakes.” 

Veteran defenders Maddie Johnston and Cubby Biscardi fought to get Duke possessions. Johnston caused two turnovers and Biscardi caused three with five draw controls, but the Blue Devils were unable to translate their tenacious effort into goals. The Fighting Irish took full advantage of Duke’s sloppy play, scoring six of eight goals in the second half as a result of Duke losing the ball on the other end.

“Despite the score, I felt like we defended them well, and I feel like we forced a lot of turnovers. We just didn't capitalize on them on our end offensively,” Kimel said. 

Duke converted just two of its eight free-position attempts, compared to Notre Dame’s 5-for-6 rate.  

Duke’s difficulties holding onto the ball gave Notre Dame’s stars time to gel on attack. Senior Madison Ahern showcased the prowess that landed on her on the preseason Tewaaraton Award watch list, single-handedly tying Duke’s total with six goals. Senior Jackie Wolak had four goals and an assist to her name, and fellow Tewaaraton Award watch list selection Kasey Choma finished the day with two goals and an assist as well.

“We played way too much defense,” Kimel said. 

Protecting the ball and maintaining possession will be key Saturday as the Blue Devils look to bounce back at Clemson, still in search of their first win in conference play. 


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