The fairytale was cut off right before the happy ending. With over 30 alumni cheering them on in the stands and the Morgan’s Message butterfly emblazoned onto every jersey, the Blue Devils muscled their way to three overtime periods — and fell just inches short.
No. 20 Duke faced Virginia Tech Saturday afternoon in Koskinen Stadium in a triple-overtime nail-biter that ultimately ended 14-13 in the Hokies’ favor. No team led by more than three, and after a Maura O’Malley man-down free position goal that forced overtime, the Blue Devils’ crunch-time efforts were not enough. With the loss, Duke drops to 6-6 overall and 1-5 in the ACC, ensuring that it will finish below .500 in conference play.
“We needed to be able to stay calm, composed, and we needed to be able to execute,” said head coach Kerstin Kimel after the game. “We had our moments where we did, we got some really good opportunities, and then some, I think, where we didn't.”
With just five seconds on the clock and a one-point lead, the Blue Devils lined up around their own eight-meter arc. Freshman Madison Drebing readied herself between the pipes, six saves into her second-half relief effort. O’Malley, at the top of the eight-meter, eyes on the goal, was ready.
The goal erased a sidearm laser from Anna Callahan less than two minutes earlier, putting Duke back on top and giving the momentum to the home team. That momentum was short-lived — after O’Malley’s regulation response and two scoreless overtime periods, the sophomore midfielder got the last laugh. Less than a minute into the third overtime period, O’Malley drove, cut to the right and fired a shot over Drebing’s right shoulder.
The game was the perfect microcosm of the Blue Devils’ season thus far. Duke kept it close, overcoming a four-goal Virginia Tech run that extended into the third quarter. Hat tricks from Katie DeSimone and Lexi Schmalz were overshadowed by Hokie midfielder Olivia Vergano and her 14 draw controls, the leader across both squads.
“That's been the story of our season a little bit,” said Kimel. “We've looked brilliant at moments, and moments where we look like we're not all on the same page.”
One key difference Saturday, however, was the goalie between the pipes for Duke when the game kicked off.
Graduate student Sophia LeRose made her return to the starting lineup, her first game with that nod since the Blue Devils’ road opener against Davidson Feb. 15. The San Diego native has been dealing with an undisclosed medical condition, but has slowly been making her return to the field over the last two weeks. While she only played the first half, LeRose had five saves and six goals allowed, only one of those scores coming in the opening period.
“She actually is significantly better than where she was,” said Kimel. “The fact that she got on the field and gave us a half of play was awesome.”
Surprisingly for Duke, the draw was a point of weakness. The team totaled 12 with graduate attacker Maddie Jenner pacing the program with nine of her own. However, Virginia Tech (6-6, 2-4 in the ACC) tallied 20 draw controls, 14 of which came at the hand of Vergano.
The Blue Devils' biggest advantage — possessions — was no longer theirs to claim.
That disparity put the onus on the rest of the lineup. On the defensive end, senior defender Kay Conway had a pair of caused turnovers. The goalies combined for 11 saves, their third-most this season, resulting in an opponent shooting percentage of just 40%.
In terms of offensive production, Duke continued to find scoring from new sources. Schmalz has quickly emerged as a complementary piece for attacker DeSimone. Schmalz has scored 10 goals in three straight starts. That mark alone eclipses her previous single-season record of eight.
The midfielder scored twice and five times in the Blue Devils' wins against East Carolina and Pittsburgh, respectively. Against the Panthers, four of those five were on four free position shots — she was perfect from the eight-meter.
“[Schmalz] is scoring momentum goals for us,” said Kimel. That effort continued in Koskinen Saturday afternoon. Her three goals, paired with one assist, all seemed to come just when Duke needed it most.
“She's gotten better every year, and given some of the uncertainty in our lineup at times, I think she's emerged as a really steady force for us,” said Kimel.
The Blue Devils get another midweek break but will head to Charlottesville, Va., April 8 to take on the 11th-ranked Cavaliers.
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Rachael Kaplan is a Trinity sophomore and sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.