Lack of discipline, missed opportunities bite Duke women's lacrosse in rivalry loss to North Carolina

Kennedy Emerson makes a save during Duke's win against Louisville.
Kennedy Emerson makes a save during Duke's win against Louisville.

CHAPEL HILL—When the Blue Devils walked off Dorrance Field and into the halftime locker room down by one, spirits were high. After going down 7-3 less than two minutes into the second quarter, the team responded in excellent fashion. With a 3-0 run and late goal from Carly Bernstein, Duke was by all means neck-and-neck with its Tobacco Road rivals. 

Yet 30 minutes later, when walking off the field once more, the Blue Devils’ heads hung low with the sting of a 16-11 loss. Eight goals from North Carolina compared to four from Duke in the second half made all the difference in a matchup with postseason consequences.

On the one hand, the defeat could be attributed to the absence of star senior attacker Katie DeSimone. After a big hit took her out of the contest against Louisville last Friday, the Bay Shore, N.Y., native was still under concussion protocol. DeSimone — the Blue Devils’ leading scorer with 3.62 goals per game — left a gaping hole in Duke’s offense.

“It’s hard … she’s our leading scorer, and it’s the first game Katie’s missed in her career,” said head coach Kerstin Kimel. “Our group has a pretty good chemistry and … [she] could’ve helped today.”

The Blue Devils’ woes, however, were bigger than just one player. After 60 minutes, the issue wasn’t an absence of opportunity. It was a lack of discipline that ultimately tanked Duke’s hopes of victory.

After a solid first-half performance, the trouble started for the Blue Devils in the third quarter. The stringent defense that forced the Tar Heels to cough up seven turnovers through the first 30 minutes started to waver as North Carolina kept attacking. The home team’s relentless pressure eventually led to costly mistakes by Duke defenders, kicked off by a check to the head by junior Reilly Traynor. The yellow card gave the Tar Heels a golden man-up opportunity, which midfielder Darcy Felter capitalized on. The sophomore ripped an unguarded shot from the left elbow of the eight-meter to make it 10-8 North Carolina. From that point on, the Blue Devils would never get close to a lead again.

Through the rest of the third quarter, the defense continued to falter. Junior defender Liv Pikiell easily sliced between two Duke players for a nearly wide-open shot on goalie Kennedy Everson to bring the score to 11-8. Her teammates helped intensify the blow with a 3-0 run that culminated in a five-goal lead. The Tar Heels were seemingly everywhere, leaving the Blue Devils scrambling for coverage while inevitably leaving someone a little too open for comfort. With small windows of opportunity, North Carolina made Duke pay. In just 15 minutes, Duke saw its chance at an upset victory fade to black.

“I felt like we made some undisciplined mistakes defensively, which created goals for them,” Kimel said.

It wasn’t just the Blue Devil defense that seemed to struggle in the third quarter. The offense, which had explosive, albeit inconsistent, momentum through much of the first half, quickly lost its spark.

Although junior attacker Carly Bernstein had a season-best four-goal day, her Herculean efforts were not enough to stanch the bleeding as Duke scored two goals in each of the second-half quarters. In part, the deficit stemmed from the Blue Devils’ inability to win the draw in the latter parts of the game. After getting beat 10-7 in the circle through the first 30 minutes of play, North Carolina took control through the remainder of the contest with a 9-5 margin.

“The third quarter hurt us … we started losing the draw, so we lost momentum,” Kimel said.

Duke, however, had plenty of opportunities on the offensive end due to caused turnovers. It just didn’t cash in. Whenever the Blue Devils regained possession, poor decision-making usually gave it right back to the Tar Heels. Maddie McCorkle checked the ball out of Felter’s stick, only for Caroline DeBellis’ wide shot to go back to North Carolina. Duke’s defense blocked a shot from Livi Lawton but failed to successfully attempt a clear. A turnover from the Tar Heels’ Ashley Humphrey didn’t materialize as Mattie Shearer turned the ball right back over. 

Bernstein, despite her offensive heroics, ripped a low-percentage shot from the top of the eight-meter that was easily saved by goalie Alecia Nicholas. Examples were easy to find throughout the second half as the Blue Devils were sloppy on offense, giving North Carolina an inordinate amount of chances going the other way.

As Duke awaits the ACC tournament Wednesday, it will hopefully be at full strength with DeSimone back in the starting lineup. However, regardless of the attacker’s presence, it will be the Blue Devils’ ability to be more disciplined on both sides of the ball that could make or break their postseason aspirations.

Mackenzie Sheehy profile
Mackenzie Sheehy | Blue Zone editor

Mackenzie Sheehy is a Trinity sophomore and Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.


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