With about 30 seconds left in their NCAA quarterfinal game, the Blue Devils’ bench started to get excited. As the players on the sideline jumped up and down in anticipation of their first Final Four berth, Duke was able to hold the ball—like they had done for much of the day—and run down the clock in the 7-3 win over Princeton. The victory sends the Blue Devils to the final weekend of the season for the first time since 2011, a time that predates any of the current players on the roster.
The Blue Devils were able to earn the win by following their game plan to a tee. Head coach Kerstin Kimel knew it would be hot, so she instructed her offense to be deliberate and control the tempo. That was made possible thanks to Duke’s success on the draw—Duke had eight draw controls to Princeton’s four.
“The fact that we were able to get those possessions and we ultimately had control in a lot of situations gave us confidence that we could take risks that were necessary,” senior Kerrin Maurer said. Maurer led the Blue Devils with two goals, and five other Duke players tallied a single goal each.
It wasn’t the most crisp finishing day for Duke on offense (20 shots resulted in seven goals), but the defense was more than able to make up for that. Entering Saturday’s game, the Tigers hadn’t been held to a single goal in a half since 2010, but that’s what the Blue Devils did to them after the opening half, going into halftime with a 3-1 lead. Princeton was limited to six shots in the first half and 16 total for the game.
The Blue Devils had tight coverage thanks to close marks on two of Princeton’s most effective scorers, playing right on their hands—that, combined with overall strong team defense, kept the Tigers out of their preferred lanes and took away passes they were used to making thanks to timely slides.
“Our kids were so tuned in, so dialed in to what Princeton was trying to work for,” Kimel said. “That was the key.”
With the defense playing effectively, junior goalkeeper Kelsey Duryea’s job was made much easier, as she recorded five saves on the day.
Duke only trailed for about five minutes of game time, and that 1-0 deficit was taken care of thanks to a free position shot from eight meters out by freshman Maddie Crutchfield. The Tigers were able to close the gap to 3-2 within the first minute of the second half, but a nifty goal by freshman Kyra Harney gave the Blue Devils a 4-2 lead three minutes later. Harney took the ball from behind the net and wrapped around the front side, firing off a shot that beat Princeton goalkeeper Ellie DeGarmo.
Duke’s win sets up another game against North Carolina, this time with a trip to the NCAA championship game on the line. The Tar Heels won the previous meeting 12-6 on April 17th. This will not be the first time the two programs have met in the NCAA tournament – Duke defeated UNC 15-7 in the 2005 quarterfinals. This will not be the first time the two programs have met in the NCAA tournament – Duke defeated UNC 15-7 in the 2005 quarterfinals.