There are a lot of pieces that go into winning a soccer game. The defense needs to be stingy, the midfield needs to possess the ball and the keeper must be locked in on any potential threats. However, victory is unattainable if one cannot outscore their opponent. For Duke, these final third struggles have epitomized its season.
The 17th-ranked Blue Devils battled to a 1-1 tie Sunday against Virginia, furthering their struggles in ACC competition. The lone goal on the day for Duke was scored by junior Dieynaba Ndaw, her first career tally in her first career start.
“It’s a tough place to come play at UVA,” said associate head coach Kieran Hall, who took over on the sidelines in head coach Robbie Church’s stead, who was out for the game. “But in terms of effort application, really positive.”
It took one minute and 44 seconds into the second half for the game to really begin. Opening play with an aggressive press, the Blue Devils (5-3-2, 1-1-2 in the ACC) looked hungry to put the ball in the back of the net. The opportunity started to brew as senior captain Maggie Graham drove down the left side of the field before sending the ball into sophomore Kat Rader at the top of the box. The forward sent a through ball toward the goal, where it bounced off a Virginia (5-2-4, 0-2-2) defender’s foot.
With luck on its side, the deflection worked to Duke’s advantage. The ball landed at the feet of Ndaw, who was ready for her moment. The Dakar, Senegal, native fired a shot with poise, hitting it off the left post at just the right angle to send it past the Cavalier keeper.
“It was honestly a great feeling,” Ndaw said. “I … was running forward [and] I saw Kat getting in the box. [The ball] fell perfectly to my left foot … so I just [struck] it as best as I could and glad it went in.”
The Blue Devils’ party would be short lived as Virginia responded emphatically soon after. Less than seven minutes later, the Cavaliers earned a corner after Duke’s Elle Piper deflected the ball out of bounds while defending in the box. Opting for a short pass in-bounds, senior Alexis Theoret served it into the box, where it was cleared out of danger.
Virginia, however, refused to back down. The Cavaliers got the ball wide to sophomore Maggie Cagle, who launched a rocket at senior transfer Leah Freeman. The experienced keeper was forced to make a save but ultimately saved her team from disaster. Still, Virginia was breathing down the Blue Devils’ necks.
The Cavaliers gained possession once more, and freshman Yuna McCormack expertly lifted the ball toward the far post from the right sideline. Tracking the service the whole way, Cagle timed her run and deftly used her left foot to put the strike past Freeman on the near post. Just like that, Virginia pulled even and dashed Duke’s hope of coming away with a second ACC win.
“Obviously, you always want to get three points … Thankfully, we were able to come away with one,” Ndaw said. “We weren’t as dominant as we wanted to be … we didn’t have as much control as we wanted.”
While the two squads saw sparks fly in the opening 10 minutes of the second half, the rest of the matchup remained relatively quiet despite the multitude of chances for both teams. The Cavaliers strung together several threats in the first 45 minutes of play, most notably when Cagle threaded the needle with a through ball to teammate Sarah Brunner. The senior muscled her way past a charging Freeman, but senior defender Nicky Chico made the block to stave off Virginia.
The Blue Devils, on the other hand, pushed for a second opportunity to cash in through the waning minutes of the second half. Sophomore Devin Lynch tried for a long shot, just barely missing the upper left corner of the net. Graham got into the action as well, executing a strong header off a service from graduate transfer Kati Druzina that went wide. Despite the chances, Duke could not find the second goal that would send them back to Durham with a victory.
“We’ve got to pick and choose the moments we want to go direct to goal and when to keep possession and then create a better situation for ourselves,” said Hall.
With the second conference win still evading them, the Blue Devils will travel further north Thursday to take on Pittsburgh in hopes of getting back in the victory column. The team will then return home to take on its fiercest rivals in North Carolina Sunday.
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Mackenzie Sheehy is a Trinity sophomore and Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.