CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Duke University women’s soccer head coach Robbie Church tried many different combinations on Friday to open the UNC Nike Classic and the Blue Devils (2-1) were able to finally get a second half goal by senior defender Natasha Anasi as Duke downed Kennesaw State, 1-0, at Fetzer Field in Chapel Hill, N.C.
“We are still searching,” said Duke head coach Robbie Church. “We are in only the second weekend of the season. We are still searching for players in the right positions. We have a lot of new players playing and we have a lot of new players that are coming back that we didn’t play, which we need to get in there. The game caused us to change a lot of lineups. That leads to some of our inconsistent play.”
Kennesaw State (1-2) was packing in the defense so Church moved Anasi, who is a two-time All-America defender, up to the midfield and the move worked as she scored her first goal since her sophomore campaign.
“The best thing is we won and we did some really good things,” added Church. “Our goal for the weekend was to win the tournament and get two wins. We got one and we are looking forward to Sunday at 12 pm to play New Mexico.”
Duke controlled the first half of the match holding a 10-3 shot advantage, led by senior Laura Weinberg’s three attempts. The Blue Devils created some great opportunities, but couldn’t get anything in-between the posts.
The first excellent chance came in the 10th minute as senior Mollie Pathman served a perfect ball in the box to redshirt senior Kim DeCesare for a header that was saved by Owl goalkeeper Olivia Sturdivant. Just three minutes later, junior Kelly Cobb was fouled just outside the box and blasted a direct kick high over the crossbar.
In the 22nd minute, senior Kaitlyn Kerr sent a cross to Pathman, who tried to place a right-footed shot into the goal, but it went wide.
Junior Katy Colas fired a direct kick into the box with eight minutes remaining and Kerr made a diving header attempt that was also saved by Sturdivant.
With a little over five minutes remaining in the first half, junior defender Tabria Williford went down with an injury and was taken off the field on a board. A product of Boerne, Texas, Williford is being evaluated at the hospital.
“I thought some of the players we brought in during the first half really provided a spark,” commented Church. “We didn’t get a goal from that, but we created opportunities.”
With a much different look in the second half, Duke continued to stay on the attack to open the stanza. Freshman Rebecca Quinn collected the first attempt in the 47th minute, but her sliding shot went wide left.
Then at the 58: 47 mark of the second half, the Blue Devils finally got on the board to take a 1-0 lead over Kennesaw State. Freshman defender Christina Gibbons placed a perfect cross off an indirect kick to Anasi. Anasi, who is out of Arlington, Va., redirected the ball into the net for her third career goal.
“Christina played a ball in and it basically kind of popped out to me,” said Anasi. “I was able to get a toe on it and put it in. Nothing too special, but a goal is a goal. That is what we needed at the time and I am just happy to get the win today.”
It marked the first time Anasi has played in the midfield since Aug. 28, 2013, when she was moved to defense, after defender Ashley Rape went down with a torn ACL. Duke went on the take down top-ranked Notre Dame, 3-1, in the match during the UNC Nike Classic.
Duke added nine more shots to close the second half, but couldn’t get anything past the stingy Owl defense. Kennesaw State was held to zero shots in the second stanza. For the match, the Blue Devils outshot the Owls, 22-3. Weinberg led Duke with six shots, while Kerr, Cobb and Pathman each notched three shots.
“In the second half, I thought we played well,” said Church. “We were not far from scoring three or four goals in that half. It is still a work in progress, especially in the final third. I thought the style of play was better than it was at South Carolina. I still think we have to come out and take charge of games early.”
In goal for Duke was redshirt junior Meghan Thomas, who collected her first collegiate shutout as she played the entire 90 minutes without notching any saves.
Duke will next face New Mexico on Sunday, Sept. 1 at 12:00 p.m., to close the UNC Nike Classic in Chapel Hill, N.C.
• Natasha Anasi started her team-best 53rd straight contest. • Senior Avery Rape played the entire second half on defense, which marked the first time in her career she has played in the back. She converted to the defender position in the offseason, after playing forward her first three years. • A total of seven different freshmen saw action in the match. • Both of Duke’s goalkeepers have registered shutouts this season – Ali Kershner and Meghan Thomas.