DURHAM — A Duke team that wondered a month ago whether it would even qualify for the postseason is headed into the round of 16 in the NCAA women’s soccer tournament.
Senior defender Natasha Anasi scored a first-half goal and helped shut down Florida’s top scorer as the Blue Devils upset the second-seeded Gators 1-0 Friday night at Koskinen Stadium.
Duke kept its league perfect in the NCAAs, as all eight ACC teams in the field advanced out of the second round. The Blue Devils will host Arkansas at 1 p.m Sunday. The Razorbacks (15-8) beat St. John’s 1-0 on a goal by Claire Kelley in the 42nd minute in Friday’s first game.
Anasi’s second goal of the year came at the 21:00 mark after freshman defender Christina Gibbons had pushed forward out of the back and won a corner kick for the Blue Devils. Mollie Pathman’s corner found Kim DeCesare outside the far post, and DeCesare’s acrobatic header redirected the ball in front to Anasi for the one-touch.
“We had been working on set plays a ton,” Anasi said. “We’ve been scratching and clawing trying to get a goal off a set piece and finally did.”
“A lot of times people try to put that on goal,” Duke coach Robbie Church said of DeCesare’s pass. “She made a great decision to bring it back across. And it was such a great finish by Natasha. She’s been so close so many times on set plays during the course of the year.”
“To score a goal any time as a defender is awesome,” Anasi said. “I’m going to take that one here.”
Anasi also contributed heavily on defense, teaming with fellow central defender Lizzy Raben to shut down Florida forward Savannah Jordan, the SEC offensive player of the year who is tied for second in the nation with 22 goals.
Jordan finished with three shots, but Duke goalkeeper Meghan Thomas made one of her seven saves to deny Jordan’s best try, a low drive in the 75th minute. Florida’s Taylor Burke had four saves, and the Gators outshot Duke 11-7.
“We were trying to force (Jordan) to play balls back, not let her get turned and go forward,” said Anasi, who gave Duke an anxious moment in the final minute when she fouled Jordan in the Duke half, a play that produced yellow cards on both players.
Florida’s ensuing free kick from 35 yards led to a desperate scramble in the box by both teams, but Jordan’s header with 5 seconds left went well wide of the mark.
“The last 30 seconds were really tense,” Anasi said. “But Meg came up with a huge save, and we’re moving on.”