RALEIGH, N.C. - The Duke women's soccer team has done something only one other Blue Devil squad had done before as they claimed the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) regular season title on Thursday evening with a 1-0 victory over N.C. State at Dail Soccer Field.
The Blue Devils closed the regular season with a 16-2-1 overall and 8-1-1 league mark as Duke totaled an ACC-best 25 points. Duke will be the No. 1 seed in the ACC Championship, which kicks off on Sunday, Oct. 30 at 1:00 p.m., at Koskinen Stadium. The opponent for Sunday will be Virginia Tech, who fell, 2-0, to Virginia on Thursday.
The Blue Devils had only won the ACC regular season title in 1994 and Duke becomes only the second ACC team to post multiple ACC regular season titles other than UNC.
"I am overwhelmed," said Duke Head Coach Robbie Church, who posted his first league title with the Blue Devils. "To win a title in a league like this in a year like this where you have 10 teams in the top 37 of the RPI that just came out on Wednesday -- is unbelievable. I am just so proud of the girls. They have worked so hard all year and fought through things. It is a just reward for them and it is a just reward for a lot of people that has been in our program in years past to that set the tone and helped us build it. To get our first league title since 1994 is fantastic."
In the first half, both teams didn't feature many excellent scoring chances but Blue Devil redshirt sophomore Kim DeCesare provided the play of the season as the Massapequa Park, N.Y. product saved a ball off the Duke goal line to preserve the 0-0 draw in the first half.
"Honestly, I didn't know," said DeCesare on if she thought she would get to the ball. "All I was thinking was run -- run as fast as you can and don't let the ball go into the net. I was successful, thank goodness. It was close. I would say the ball was touching the line -- it wasn't in the goal."
On the play, Duke goalkeeper Tara Campbell charged N.C. State's Stephanie Bronson and as Campbell slid to stop a charging Bronson, the ball bounced off Bronson and was rolling towards the goal. DeCesare, a 5-10 midfielder, sprinted towards the line and slid to knock the ball away as it was getting ready to cross into the net.
"I thought she was," commented Church on if he thought DeCesare could get to the ball before crossing the line. "Kim is our Mrs. hustle. If there was Charlie Hustle of the soccer field it is Kim DeCesare. We bring her off the bench - she could be a starter for almost anybody in the country. We feel like she is a starter. She plays starter minutes. But, she brings so much energy, so much work rate into the game. She is not giving up on anything. When I looked back and saw somebody chasing it, I was glad it was Kimmy. If there was anyway to get to the ball, she would make it happen."
The Blue Devils outshot the Wolfpack, 5-3, in the second half and was called offside four times.
"We were fortunate and I think that was a big part of the game -- that it was nothing to nothing at halftime," said Church. "The second half - we took the level up some. We moved the ball better in the second half, our shape was much better and I thought we just had a great attacking mentality."
Towards the end of the first half and into the second stanza, the Blue Devils started to pick up the run of play and began to challenge the Wolfpack. Duke attempted the first five shots of the second half as the Blue Devils were all over the box. Sophomore Mollie Pathman hit the crossbar for the second straight match in the 53rd minute.
Then, in the 64th minute Pathman drew a couple of defenders to her on the left side as she ran down the edge of the box. A native of Durham, N.C., Pathman used her left foot to cross a ball that went straight to the head of a leaping Kaitlyn Kerr. A product of Bensalem, Pa., Kerr headed the rock into the right corner of the net past Wolfpack goalkeeper Kim Kern.
"Kaitlyn made a great run," said Pathman. "There was a lot of people in the box and she called for it. I was able to get my head up and just find her. She had a great finish -- kept it down. Sometimes people head it over but Kaitlyn did a great job."
The tally for Kerr was her fifth of the season and her fourth game-winner of the year. Three of those game-winners have come against ACC opponents and have been 1-0 contests. On the season, Kerr owns six goals, which is the third-best on the squad.
"I am kind of speechless right now," said Pathman on winning the title. "I don't think it has completely sunk in. This is why we came to Duke and what we are fighting for. We definitely want a national championship, but this is one step closer to that goal and I think it is a great accomplishment."
N.C. State tried to make a late rally and brought Kern up on a final corner kick as the time was winding down but the Blue Devil defense stood strong for their 13th shutout of the season. The 13 shutouts matches a Duke school record, which also occurred in 2008 and 1992. In goal for the Blue Devils, Campbell netted one save for her 12th shutout of the season.
Campbell, who is from Cincinnati, Ohio, now owns 26 shutouts in three years with the Blue Devils.
The 16 wins on the year for Duke is one shy from matching a school record of 17, which occurred in 1994 and 1992.
"It is a great accomplishment," said Kerr on winning the ACC title. "Our team has been working -- it is not just this year -- it has been a process. Robbie has been here for so many years -- all of our coaches are absolutely amazing. I say we have the best coaching staff in the country and they prepare us every day -- we prepare ourselves. Winning this has just been a huge process -- worked day in and day out. We really wanted it. We just have to keep going. We are proud but not satisfied."
Duke will next host the quarterfinals of the ACC Championship on Sunday, Oct. 30 at 1:00 p.m., at Koskinen Stadium versus Virginia Tech. Tickets are $8.00 for adults and $5 for students/children and seniors. The first 150 Duke students with a valid ID will get in free.
- Duke finished the ACC regular season with a school-record eight league wins.
- Duke has scored six goals in the second half the last three games. The Blue Devils have not scored a goal in the first half since the Virginia Tech match on Oct. 2.
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