LOUISVILLE, Ky. --- The illustrious and storied career of head coach John Rennie came to an end on Friday night, as the Louisville Cardinals edged the Duke Blue Devils, 1-0, on a cold night at Cardinal Park in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Rennie has served 35 years as a collegiate head coach, including 29 seasons at the helm of the Blue Devils. Thirteen seniors also saw their athletic careers at Duke come to an emotional end.
“It’s not so much the loss but the fact that my entire career here at Duke soccer-wise has come to an end,” said senior defender and captain Tim Jepson. “It’s humbling, it’s real humbling. The thing I’m sad most about is that I’m not going to be with these guys every day anymore. I’ve been around these guys every day for the past four years and you build such a brotherhood and just the fact that in terms of soccer that’s gone. Just thinking about that is the hardest thing right now.”
In the first period, the Blue Devils and Cardinals went back and forth, each with a few good chances. It would be Louisville that would capitalize on one of its opportunities, when in the 28th minute Marco Terminesi played a quick cross from the left to Frank Jonke, who had sprinted up the middle and was just onside when the ball was played to him. Jonke took one touch forward and ripped a shot to the left corner of the net from 20 yards out that beat junior goalkeeper Brendan Fitzgerald.
“They scored a great goal,” said Rennie. “They took advantage of one of their chances early so you’ve got to give them a lot of credit. It’s very disappointing obviously.”
Despite taking seven shots in the first half, the Blue Devils would manage only one shot on goal--- a header by freshman midfielder Cole Grossman that a Louisville defender blocked a yard out from the goal line.
The offensive intensity would pick up in the second stanza, but to no avail in terms of results. Duke would manage another seven shots, three of which were on goal, but could not find the goal they desperately needed. Louisville continued to play tough defense and counterattack frequently, posting eight second half shots.
Louisville had the best chance of the second frame when Gerardo Chavez fired a shot towards the upper right corner of the net, but Fitzgerald made a leaping save and punched the ball out of harms’ way.
Duke would continue to battle, but Louisville’s strong defensive effort and its impressive ball control were too much to contend with for the Blue Devils.
Duke’s defense looked strong, holding their opponent to one goal or less for the 16th game this season. Fitzgerald made four saves to finish the year with a goals against average of 1.07 and a save percentage of .667.
The Blue Devils outshot their opponent for the 16th time in 20 games this season, holding a 14-12 advantage. Duke outshot the opposition this season 357-175, and held a shots on goal advantage of 149-82. Senior Spencer Wadsworth led all players with five shots in the game.
“This game is about finishing chances and we certainly had our chances tonight and didn’t finish them,” said Rennie. “They scored a great goal. They took advantage of one of their chances early so you have to give them a lot of credit.”
Duke and Louisville are now 1-1 all-time against each other. In their first meeting in 1997 the Blue Devils defeated the Cardinals, 2-0, in the Wolfpack Classic Tournament in Raleigh, N.C.
With the loss, No. 21 Duke ends the season at 11-8-1 and the No. 25 Cardinals improve to 11-6-4 with the victory. Louisville advances to take on fifth-seeded Ohio State on Wednesday in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Blue Devils are now 26-20-1 all-time in the NCAA Tournament, dating back to 1972, including a 10-9 slate in first round games. Duke has been to the tournament 21 times overall, four years in a row and in eight of the last 10 seasons.
Duke’s senior class, which boasts 13 players overall and 11 who have been in Durham since 2004, finishes with a 6-4 mark in the NCAA Tournament with one College Cup appearance. The senior class posted a 59-23-5 record in their four years at Duke and won two ACC Tournaments and one ACC regular season title.
The winning coach of the game, Louisville’s Ken Lolla, is a former Blue Devil. Lolla was a two-time All-America midfielder under Rennie at Duke from 1980-1983, and helped guide the team to two ACC Championships and a national championship match appearance. He also served as an assistant for the Duke squad in 1985 and 1988-1989.
“It’s an honor to coach against him [Rennie] at any point, but this one is bittersweet,” said Lolla. “I have such great respect for John and what he’s done not just as a coach, but what he’s done in my life for me in giving me the opportunity first to come to Duke and then to be a coach at Duke as well. He’s done quite a bit for me both personally and professionally.”
Rennie’s record as a collegiate coach finishes at 454-206-50. He currently is in fifth place all-time among NCAA Division I coaches for career wins. With his 410 victories at Duke and 95 in ACC play, Rennie has the most victories of any coach in ACC history. He won Duke’s first national championship in any sport in 1986 and his teams finished with a winning record in 27 of his 29 years in Durham. This was the 20th time that Rennie had taken Duke to the NCAA Tournament, a figure that includes five trips to the College Cup Final Four and three appearances in the national championship match. With Rennie at the helm, the Blue Devils have won three ACC tournament championships and six ACC regular season titles. Five of his players have won National Player of the Year honors, 29 players have received All-America accolades and 102 players have earned All-ACC team honors. He has been named ACC Coach of the Year five times and the South Region’s coach of the year three times. In 1982 he was voted the National Coach of the Year. Prior to this season, Rennie announced that it would be his last at Duke.
“It hasn’t [hit me yet]. Right up to the end there you’re just wrapped up in the game,” said Rennie. “After the game you see how badly the seniors hurt and I’m one of those seniors, so it’s not a good feeling.”