Goldthwaite's first career goal propels Duke women's soccer past Virginia Tech in crucial road contest

Grace Watkins, who provided an assist Thursday, dribbles the ball during Duke's defeat to Clemson.
Grace Watkins, who provided an assist Thursday, dribbles the ball during Duke's defeat to Clemson.

Duke put away Virginia Tech 1-0 Thursday night to snap a record-tying six-game winless streak. The Blue Devils knight in shining armor? A freshman who came off the bench. 

The first half was all Blue Devils. The Hokies had just 37% possession, and just a paltry 3% possession in their attacking third compared to Duke’s 32%. The Blue Devil offense came out of the gate with hunger. Its wingers went to work near the sidelines, maintaining necessary width that allowed it to send balls into the box and facilitate scoring opportunities. Duke’s first-half winner from freshman midfielder Phoebe Goldthwaite came off such a play. The Hokies built an offense in the second half, but timely tackles and saves kept the edge for the Blue Devils, and they returned from Blacksburg, Va., with their first win in over a month. 

“Everyone on our team was playing with fire … we realized that we really just need to play for each other if we want to continue our season,” Goldthwaite said. 

In the 14th minute, Goldthwaite subbed into the game, providing a breather for sophomore forward Julia Saunicheva. Eleven minutes later, the freshman scored the game-winning goal, and the first of her collegiate career. 

The match’s lone score started with senior midfielder Grace Watkins picking a Hokie’s pocket just inside their half. From left field she played a magnificent long ball down to the right side of the penalty box with eyes on a streaking Goldthwaite. Watkins threaded the needle perfectly, placing the ball out of reach for Virginia Tech defender Aino Vuorinen but in perfect position for Goldthwaite on her right to make a play. Goldthwaite one-tapped the ball just beyond the right corner of the goalie box, sending it diagonally into the left side of the net. All goalie Alia Skinner could do was watch as the Blue Devils (6-5-3, 2-3-3 in the ACC) took the lead in impressive fashion. 

“Grace was really brave today with the ball,” said head coach Robbie Church. “She took chances, she ran behind, she took players on. The ball that got served over to Phoebe, what a great ball in between the backs.”  

“Easy finish, she placed it right in front of me,” Goldthwaite said. 

Goldthwaite stayed on for the rest of the game, proving to be a force on both sides of the ball. She had the defensive play of the game midway through the second half, tackling forward Sophie Maltese as she charged through the box before the Hokie could slip a shot past senior goalie Leah Freeman. In a moment when it looked sure that Virginia Tech (6-7-3, 3-5-0) would equalize, the homegrown talent from Durham came up with a big play to keep the needle pointing in Duke’s favor.

“This has been a really really hard place for this program to come up here and get a win,” Church said. “It was a must win … It was just a phenomenal performance for everybody.” 

Duke outshot Virginia Tech 8-0 in the first half, and 13-4 overall. Six of its shots were on goal, exceeding its average 35% rate. The offensive assault was welcomed after the Blue Devils averaged only eight shots per game over the previous four games. Heading into the matchup, they averaged 3.2 corners per game, the second-lowest mark in the ACC. They had 13 corners Thursday. 

Watkins and sophomore midfielder Carina Lageyre were active and accurate on the attack, combining for seven shots, three of which on frame. In the 49th minute, a powerful shot from Watkins from right-field was barely pushed wide left by a diving Skinner. The goalie’s fingertips were the only thing in the way of a 2-0 Duke lead. Lageyre was a dual playmaker and scoring threat as well. She played several great balls into the box and was mere inches away from an assist when her ball just missed freshman forward Mia Minestrella’s head on Virginia Tech’s doorstep. 

Seniors Katie Groff and Maggie Graham were forces to be reckoned with at left back and midfield; The pair played all 90 minutes and were responsible for Duke’s such lopsided possession. Groff, usually a midfielder, filled in at left-back and was tremendous en route to a confidence-building clean sheet for Duke. 

“Wherever we put Katie Groff she’s an unbelievable player,” Church said. “Maggie Graham didn't train all week, what a performance, what a performance she put in … really, really proud of this team.”

Next up for Duke is No 1. Florida State Sunday afternoon at home — a high-stakes game against a top-ranked ACC foe. 

“It's nothing but a great opportunity for us,” Church said. 


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