The 24th-ranked Blue Devils opened their season in disappointing fashion Friday afternoon, falling 10-9 to Navy in a game that, despite the final score, was anything but close.
Duke’s failed clear attempts and sloppy turnovers made it easy for Navy to get the edge in the first half and head into halftime up 7-3 with a world of momentum. The Midshipmen emerged from halftime hot and scored three quick goals, two of which by attacker Emily Messinese came off the same exact play within 20 seconds of each other. Down 3-10, it looked like Duke (0-1) was going to end up on the wrong end of a blowout.
Sophomore defender Madison Beale and graduate goalie Courtney Kaufman kicked Duke’s defense into high gear, locking Navy (1-0) down for the remainder of the game while Duke’s offense strung together a 6-0 scoring run on the other end. Despite senior attacker Katie DeSimone and graduate midfielder Olivia Carner’s best efforts, the Blue Devils couldn’t complete the comeback before time ran out. Navy slipped through their fingers by one goal, snatching a close win from the jaws of a blowout.
After Navy’s 10th goal, something changed. DeSimone drew a shooting space call for Duke’s first real scoring opportunity of the second half and her high, powerful shot connected, breaking a 12-minute drought for the Blue Devils.
In almost every facet of the game, however, Navy prevailed. The Midshipmen put more shots on frame (25 to Duke’s 15), won more draw controls (17 to six), had fewer unforced turnovers (six to 10) and completed 17-of-18 clear attempts compared to the Blue Devils’ 17-for-23 mark. The only thing that Duke showed a meaningful advantage in was goal. Kaufman was a brick wall between the pipes, saving 15 shots for a .600 save percentage, compared to Navy’s Felicia Giglio’s six saves for a .400 save percentage. Her performance alone kept Duke in the game even when it faced a bleak seven-goal deficit.
The Blue Devils shot well, converting nine of their 15 attempts on goal, but the lack of possession off the draw limited their offensive chances and overworked their defense unit.
Led by Beale with three caused turnovers, Duke’s defenders put together long, impressive stands and forced the Midshipmen to take low-percentage chances under shot-clock pressure. Carner converted a Navy shot-clock violation into a goal at the other end, then freshman midfielder Ellie White’s key draw control to open fourth-quarter play gave DeSimone the chance to pump fake and draw shooting space for her third goal of the game. The tide began to turn.
The real momentum shift occurred less than a minute later after a fantastic sequence on both sides of the ball from senior midfielder Katie Keller, who followed a caused turnover on defense with a goal almost immediately. Receiving a feed from junior midfielder Mattie Shearer at the top of the 12-meter, Keller charged into the eight meter and dodged her oncoming defender with finesse, firing a beautifully placed shot past the goalie. She threw her stick down emphatically, infusing the Blue Devils with energy not yet seen until that moment.
After missed shots and turnovers from both teams, Duke finally broke through again. Junior attacker Carly Bernstein faked like she was going to cage, drawing two defenders and allowing senior midfielder Maddie McCorkle to her right to slip behind the defenders into the open space in the eight. Bernstein found her for an easy goal in a classic “draw and dump'' type play. The Blue Devils cut Navy’s lead from seven to just two, and there were still 10 minutes to play.
Duke weathered a near four-minute defensive stand without allowing a goal, even while down two women, but Navy ate precious time off the clock as Duke failed to execute two clear attempts. When the Blue Devils finally got the ball back on offense, they were clinical. Carner brought the ball down the left side, beating her defender one-on-one and ripping a bounce shot into the top-right corner to pull Duke within one with just more than two minutes left in the game.
Carner secured possession for the Blue Devils on the draw circle, and it looked like they would settle the ball and prepare to have the last shot of the game. With 1:25 to play, Shearer put too much air under a long lateral pass. It sailed over Carner’s outstretched stick and out of bounds. Navy ball. The Midshipmen ran the clock out after the untimely turnover and the bench rushed the field to embrace their goalie and celebrate sending Duke home with its first opening-game loss since the team’s inception in 1996.
The Blue Devils will seek to remedy their turnover, draw control and clear attempt woes when they head to Vert Stadium to face High Point away Sunday afternoon.
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