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Stanford shuts out Duke women’s soccer in road game fraught with missed opportunities

Senior midfielder Maggie Graham helps Duke hold off Wisconsin in Koskinen Stadium.
Senior midfielder Maggie Graham helps Duke hold off Wisconsin in Koskinen Stadium.

In a must-watch heavy-weight bout between two feisty teams, Stanford gave Duke anything but a warm welcome. 

Under vast Saturday-night skies, it was then-No. 3 Stanford that came out swinging in their home Cagan Stadium against the visiting Blue Devils. Pressing high from the first whistle blow, the Cardinal opened the scoring with a timely shot from Andrea Kitahata off an early cross. Although then-No. 10 Duke fought back, its comeback efforts were short-lived: Stanford would go on to bury three more goals en route to a 4-0 victory.

“Give Stanford Credit. They were very, very good last night. They were waiting for us,” said Duke head coach Robbie Church. “They were standing there, they were waiting for us and they jumped on us.”

The first half of play was not as lopsided as the score may suggest, however. It didn’t take long for sophomore sensation Kat Rader to cook up a near-goal opportunity. Four minutes into the match, the Stuart, Fla., native created a chance and found the back of the net — though the shot was ruled offside afterward. 

Stanford came marching back with an emphatic response. Using wide full-backs and finding pockets of space through the middle, the Cardinal created chance after chance. Less than 30 minutes into the match, it would find itself resting comfortably on a two-goal cushion.

As things started to slip away, the Blue Devils (2-2) were gifted with the golden opportunity to make a dent in Stanford’s two-goal lead: A penalty kick. Rader stepped up and drilled the ball left, only for it to be stopped by a diving Cardinal goalkeeper. 

As the Stanford players surged toward the invigorated goalkeeper, Duke was handed a lifeline; the Cardinal’s Ryan Campbell had stepped off the line prematurely, thus resulting in a retake of the penalty. Unfortunately, a second kick would not yield a different outcome — senior midfielder Maggie Graham’s shot skyrocketed over the net, squashing any remaining Duke hopes. 

“We're still evolving,” said Church. “As a team, losing six starters last year, it's gonna take a little while to evolve. We’ve played the toughest schedule in the country so far. We will see dividends for that down the road.”

While the Blue Devils failed to capitalize on their chances, Stanford (5-0) did the opposite — mercilessly.

The Cardinal’s Kennedy Wesley netted a penalty in the 26th minute of play. Given just enough space inside the 18, Stanford co-captain Maya Doms volleyed a well-placed corner kick for her third goal of the season. And when no one stepped to a pacing Nya Harrison, the junior defender flung a shot over the leaping Duke goalie, extending the home team’s lead to four.

Throughout the match, the Blue Devils’ defensive third fought constant pressure. Duke’s back four and holding midfielder struggled to connect passes to advance the ball across the halfway line. Any sloppy pass would see the Cardinal swarm the box in search of a goal — the Blue Devils allowed a season-high 14 shots.

“They really pressed hard,” Church said. “And I think gave us some problems of decision making.” 

Whenever an opportunity presented itself, Stanford was unwaveringly sharp — especially with their early crosses into the box. Two well-placed crosses were the cause of two quick finishes and two goals for the Cardinal. 

“It is not just the back line. Our front players have to block those crosses,” Church said. “It’s got to start with doing a better job defending crosses.” 

But in the times Duke did manage to break down Stanford’s press, it showed signs that it can, too, be dangerous on the offensive. When given the ball, Rader didn’t hesitate to use her dribble and pace to bring it up to the final third. A trio of shots from sophomore forward Devin Lynch in the final 15 minutes of play showed glimpses of Duke’s capacity for firepower; of the Blue Devils’ season-low six shot attempts, the sophomore forward logged four.

This was Duke’s fourth game with its new-look roster: The Blue Devils are missing six starters from last season, the formidable Michelle Cooper amongst them. This early in the game, Church and his young team must focus on exercising the kinks out of their play. 

“We gotta regroup. We gotta move on. And we gotta be ready to play on Thursday night,” Church said after the match.

Duke can’t afford to dwell on its loss for too long as it looks to bounce back against East Carolina in its return to Koskinen Stadium, 7pm Thursday.


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