COLLEGE STATION, Texas – The seventh-ranked Duke women’s soccer team went on the road to open the season on Friday evening and registered a 1-0 victory over 12th-ranked Texas A&M (0-1) at Ellis Field in College Station, Texas.
With the victory, Duke (1-0) head coach Robbie Church registered his biggest season-opening win against a ranked opponent of his 13-year career with the Blue Devils.
“I could not be prouder of how we played in this environment,” said Church. “The first 15-20 minutes we were on our heels a little bit. We were fortunate we made some bad decisions and made some nervous decisions. We knew that we would have some players play like that with a lot of them playing for the first time in this type of environment. Once we settled down and started connecting passes, our confidence started to grow. I thought the last 25 minutes of the first half we were very, very good. I am very, very proud of our team to get a win here.”
The first stanza was a tale of two halves as Texas A&M dominated the action early, but Duke closed strong with a 10-3 shot advantage the final 32 minutes.
Texas A&M opened with the first shot just 38 seconds into the match off the leg of Shea Groom, but was saved by Blue Devil keeper Ali Kershner. A redshirt sophomore product of Palo Alto, Calif., Kershner was making her first collegiate start on the night.
Duke netted shots by Kelly Cobb, Kaitlyn Kerr, Laura Weinberg and Kim DeCesare over the next 16 minutes to take control of the match. The Blue Devils had their best chance of the half in the 36th minute as Cobb played a great ball to DeCesare along the right edge of the 18. A native of Massapequa, Park, N.Y., DeCesare drove towards the right post and fired a shot, but was saved by Aggie keeper Jordan Day. DeCesare grabbed the rebound and fired another shot but Day was able to stick her right leg out to stop the attempt.
As the first stanza was closing, junior Katy Colas made a run down the left sideline and sent a perfect cross to a leaping redshirt sophomore Audrey Gibson, but the shot was saved by Day. Gibson, who is out of San Francisco, Calif., was making her first appearance since 2011 as she missed last year due to a foot injury.
Duke held an 11-4 advantage in shots in the first half. Leading the way was DeCesare with four attempts and Cobb with three.
The Blue Devils continued on the attack to start the second half and netted the first goal at the 51:24 mark to take a 1-0 advantage. Duke freshman Toni Payne, who started the second half after coming off the bench in the first, featured some fancy footwork to beat her defender and drive into the box. She split two Aggies and sent a perfect pass to DeCesare, who took one touch as she drove to the right side of the box. DeCesare then finished into the left corner for her 24th career goal.
“Toni played a great through-ball – it was a little wide, but I looked up and the keeper overran the near post,” said DeCesare. I saw a space far post and I slotted it in.”
Texas A&M tried to pressure the Blue Devils late in the match but the Duke defense held strong for the shutout. The best chance came in the 89th minute as Annie Kunz headed an attempt that just went over the crossbar.
Church on the play of freshman starting defender Christina Gibbons, “She started at right back and we moved her to left back when we had injuries. She was unbelievable wherever we needed. She saved one behind the goalkeeper late in the game –cleared it. She was big time and she has been that way since day one of our preseason.”
Kershner registered her first collegiate shutout in her first start in goal. She notched three saves over 90 minutes of action. Day added five saves for Texas A&M in goal.
Duke posted a 17-12 shot advantage and was led by DeCesare with six attempts. Kerr added four shots, while Cobb and Weinberg each chipped in three.
“You always want to start off the season with a win, especially in an atmosphere like this,” commented DeCesare. “It was absolutely huge. This team was ranked in the top 20. It was awesome.”
Duke will travel to Columbia, S.C., to close the weekend against South Carolina on Sunday, Sept. 25 at 7:00 p.m.
• Natasha Anasi started her team-best 52nd straight contest. • For the second straight year, Duke opened the season on the road against a ranked opponent. • The win marks the sixth straight year the Blue Devils have opened the season with a win. Robbie Church is 11-1-1 in season openers over his tenure at Duke. • Duke featured three freshmen starting in the contest (Lizzy Raben, Rebecca Quinn and Christina Gibbons), which is the most since 2009 when Tara Campbell, Erin Koballa and Nicole Lipp started as freshmen. • The Blue Devils started two freshmen on defense (Raben, Gibbons) for the first time since the 2002 campaign when Kate Seibert and Carolyn Ford started on defense as rookies. It is only the third time in school history two freshmen have started on defense in the season opener. • A total of six freshmen saw action in the first half – Lizzy Raben, Christina Gibbons, Rebecca Quinn, Toni Payne, Krysia Sikora and Malinda Allen.