With fall crisp in the air and on a day meant for bad luck and unfortunate circumstances (Friday the 13th), No. 2 Duke expelled all potential misfortune as it held its ground and defeated No. 5 Louisville Friday afternoon at Jack Katz Stadium.
Scoring two unanswered goals, the Blue Devils won the top-five matchup 2-1, beating an important and talented ACC opponent. Goals from sophomore Alaina McVeigh and junior Logan Clouser allowed Duke to expand its win streak to 11 and now sit at 5-0 in the ACC for the first time in school history. Through some controversial calls and a last offensive push by Louisville, the Blue Devils were able to stay calm and close out the game.
“We’re really so excited. I’m so proud of them,” head coach Pam Bustin said after the game. “That’s what we came out here to do tonight, and we’ll just have to regroup and do it again.”
Duke (13-1, 5-0 in the ACC) came into the matchup hot off a 10-game win streak, in which it had beaten three ranked opponents and worked its way up to No. 2 in the nation. Even so, Louisville (12-2, 2-2) posed a potential threat to its undefeated conference record.
“The biggest focus was on continuing to lead as individuals in our team and focus our way of play on things that are important to us,” Bustin said. “We want to make sure that each person took accountability for that today and clearly they did. We are really proud of them for doing that.”
Despite ending the first half scoreless, the two teams were locked into a tight matchup as they battled end to end throughout. Duke had the first chance of the afternoon, as McVeigh hammered a shot off the crossbar just over a minute into the first quarter.
“I thought we had some really good looks at the circle in the first half,” Bustin said. “It was just a matter of continuing to find ways to put the ball in the cage … so that we could get some more opportunities for rebounds and deflections.”
Duke only recorded three shots on goal the entire game but managed to record two goals compared to the Cardinals’ five shots on goal with only one scored, displaying the Blue Devils’ high offensive efficiency.
Louisville scored first, as Rylie Wollerton capitalized on an uncontrolled rebound after a save from senior goalie Piper Hampsch, giving the Cardinals a 1-0 lead in the third quarter. The score was not lopsided for long, as Duke swiftly answered just under four minutes later. After a close shot early in the first, McVeigh made up for it, tying the game. McVeigh, who was out in the 2022 season due to injury, recorded her 13th goal of the season which moves her only two goals away from being in the top 25 of the schools’ single-season goal list.
With the game still tied going into the fourth quarter, both teams were eager to score in order to avoid overtime. The break for the Blue Devils came from a perfectly angled goal by Clouser that whizzed right past Louisville’s goalkeeper.
“I got one of those balls 10 minutes before the goal and I had mistrapped it, but it was a beautiful ball,” Clouser said. “It was just consistency and trust in my teammates to send those balls and trust them to work hard to give me another chance.”
Clouser, who plays as a midfielder, has not been a key goal scorer in the past, but the coaching staff has been working on building her confidence on offense.
“We’ve been wanting her to pull the trigger. When she had that space to do it, she did it with confidence and complete conviction like that,” Bustin said. “I’m really glad to see that it went in obviously, but just the fact that she took the chance to take that shot is something I’m really excited and proud about.”
As the clock wound down and Duke rested on its fragile one-goal lead, the tensions in the stadium rose. It seemed as if the potential for bad luck was catching up, as calls went against the Blue Devils and toward Louisville.
Overcoming this adversity and sustaining a calm presence on the field has been a key aspect of the work the Blue Devils did in the 2023 preseason. On Friday, in the last few minutes of a key conference matchup, it paid off.
“I think one of our biggest growth points this year is our ability to breathe and relax in really high-intensity moments,” Clouser said. “High communication and just overall team connection allowed us to end the game strong.”
It can’t be understated how big of a win this is not only for the Blue Devils of 2023, but Duke’s program in general. After going 0-6 in the ACC last season, being undefeated in the conference this year is a complete turnaround. Even more so, to defeat and compete alongside a field hockey powerhouse such as Louisville is huge for a team that has in the past lagged behind.
“It’s a cliche, but we do just take it a day at a time and every day is a new day. Every day you’ve got to show up and be the best version of yourself,” Bustin said. “We just keep trying to encourage that. And maybe it’s not your best day, but we’re part of a team.”
With the hardest ACC challenge still down the road — No. 3 North Carolina Oct. 28 — Duke still has plenty of room to climb.
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