DURHAM, N.C. - The sixth-ranked Duke women's lacrosse team advanced to the NCAA Women's Lacrosse Championship quarterfinals for the eighth consecutive season as the Blue Devils downed No. 10 Virginia 11-9 Sunday afternoon at Koskinen Stadium. Senior Kat Thomas led a balanced Blue Devil offense with three goals on the afternoon and Duke's defense limited Virginia to just two goals on five shots following the intermission.
"I think the biggest difference is we really buckled down in the second half defensively," said head coach Kerstin Kimel. "We didn't need to make huge adjustments coming out of halftime. We just needed to play our brand of defense, which I felt like we weren't doing in the first half. I felt like we were hesitant and we weren't being aggressive and we were being kind of indecisive. At halftime, you have a chance to collect the kids and look at them all and say, 'What we need to do is not hard; it's simple. We need to open our mouths, we need to talk, we need to direct people, we need to listen and we need to make plays.' I think you saw that in the second half. We gave Mollie [Mackler] an opportunity to make saves. I think that's attributed to our defense really stepping up and playing much more aggressively in the second half."
The seventh-seeded Blue Devils improve to 12-6 with the win and advance to next Saturday's quarterfinal round. Duke will face No. 2 seed Northwestern on 7 p.m. (CT) at Lakeside Field in Evanston, Ill. The Blue Devils hold a 17-14 all-time record in the NCAA Tournament and have now won two straight games against Virginia in the postseason event. The Cavaliers finished the season with an 11-8 overall record.
Duke, which looked to avenge a 14-12 loss to Virginia earlier this season, won the opening draw and converted the opportunity into a Brigid Smith free position goal 49 seconds into the game. Virginia answered shortly after, but the Blue Devils would take a 2-1 lead just over four minutes into the game off a Molly Quirke tally.
Despite the early lead, momentum shifted to the Cavaliers' favor as Virginia compiled a 4-0 run over the next 10 minutes. The Blue Devils faced a 4-2 deficit with 11:30 to go in the half when Thomas netted the first of her three goals off an assist from sophomore Maddy Morrissey. Twenty-five seconds later, Quirke found the back of the net for a second time to tie the game. Morrissey capped off the 3-0 Duke spurt with an unassisted goal to give Duke a 5-4 advantage late in the opening period.
Virginia responded, this time with scores from Julie Gardner and Morgan Stephens. Down two goals for the second time, Thomas again ignited a Duke rally as the senior from Latham, N.Y., scored the final two goals of the half to knot the game at seven-all heading into halftime.
"Honestly, momentum plays a really big part," added Thomas. "I think one of the things that was hardest about my injury was you kind of lose your confidence in your feet and my feet were really big with dodging. So every game I've had, I've gained a little bit more confidence and become, in a sense, the player I was before. I think that's all it was. My teammates got through, I had the lane and I took it and just tried to stick the shots when I could."
The Blue Devils came out of the locker room strong with Emma Hamm and Kim Wenger netting back-to-back goals to start the second stanza. The back-and-forth action continued with Virginia finding a way to tie the contest at 9-9 with 17:06 left on the clock.
Sophomore Taylor Virden came away with the ensuing draw, her fourth on the day, and the possession ultimately led to a Morrissey score with 15:44 to go. The two teams traded shots over the next seven minutes before Duke regained possession following a Mollie Mackler save. The Blue Devils were able to take several minutes off the clock before Wenger made it an 11-9 game with 2:47 left.
Virginia kept possession after the draw and the Cavaliers' Ainsley Baker earned a free position chance following a Duke yellow card with 1:47 left. Baker passed to an open Stephens just outside the crease on the left, but Mackler came up with game-clinching save to seal the victory.
"Honestly, that was one of my proudest moments as a goalie," said Mackler. "Three of my defenders crashed on to that shot, so it was amazing. I just put my stick where there weren't bodies, which was a pretty small area, so I was really proud of my defense on that shot."
Thomas, who played in her fifth game of the season after missing the first 13 games of the year due to injury, led Duke with a season-high three goals. Hamm totaled three points on a goal and two assists, while Quirke and Wenger added two goals each.
Slater led the Cavaliers with a four-goal performance, while Stephens added two.
In goal, Mackler made nine saves against nine goals against for her 12th win of the season and Duke's defense limited its 13th opponent of the season to single digit scoring.
The Blue Devils held a 15-7 advantage in draw controls, including a 12-3 margin in the first half. Thomas and Virden came up with four draw controls each, followed closely by three from Hamm.
"The kind of season we've had ... we've had a lot of adversity," added Kimel. "We've had ups and downs. We were thrilled to get into the tournament. We didn't care who we were going to play. We're thrilled that we won and that we get to go play again. It's Northwestern and we're so excited for the trip; we haven't been on the road in two months. We're really looking forward to a deserved day off for the girls, then just getting ready to play next weekend."