DURHAM, N.C. – Two weeks ago, the Blue Devils dropped a 13-10 decision to the Quakers in Philadelphia, but No. 5 Duke did not waste the opportunity to exact revenge in the opening round of the 2011 NCAA Women’s Lacrosse Championship, defeating ninth-ranked Penn 12-9 Sunday afternoon at Koskinen Stadium.
The Blue Devils, now 14-4 on the year, move on to a second round bout with No. 4 Florida next weekend, while the Quakers conclude their season with an 11-6 ledger.
“In our first Penn game, we had a lot of turnovers,” head coach Kerstin Kimel said. “We typically do not turn the ball over much, so really we didn’t really change anything strategically. The one difference is that defensively, our kids at Penn were very antsy; they were jumping double teams and that was not part of our game plan. So today, we really wanted to plan a very settled, disciplined style and that served us well. I was really, really proud of our kids and the way we executed today.”
Prior to today’s contest, the Quakers had taken three-of-five decisions from the Blue Devils in the all-time series, including NCAA Tournament games in 2008 and 2009 and the regular season finale this season, but a determined Blue Devil squad was not to be stopped by the Quakers again, controlling possession with a 14-9 advantage on the draw.
Duke’s upperclassmen led the way for the Blue Devils with junior Kat Thomas (4g) and senior Sarah Bullard (3g) pacing the offense with a combined seven goals. Junior Kim Wenger and redshirt junior Emma Hamm both chipped in with a goal and two assists each, and senior Christie Kaestner bolstered her team-leading total to 43 assists this season after dishing out three today.
“We’re approaching this postseason as a whole new season,” added Thomas. “You go into every game playing against a nameless, faceless opponent, and that’s what we wanted to do against Penn. We knew their players and their strategy, but we wanted to approach today as a brand new game. What I really like is that we focused on us. We went back to basics and focused on the little things to be the Duke team we knew we could be. Move the ball, have each others backs, pride ourselves on the little things and believe that we can do it, [if we did those things] then we knew we would come out victorious in this game.”
Penn struck first to start the game, breaking a scoreless tie at the 2:30 mark with a free position goal from Bridget Waclawik, but the Quakers’ lead was short-lived after a 4-0 Duke run over the next seven minutes. Thomas registered an unassisted tally to tie things up at one-all before freshman Molly Quirke scored the first of her two goals on the day to give Duke the lead less than a minute later. Duke would never trail again the rest of the way with Thomas adding her second score and Bullard getting into the action to cap Duke’s four-goal streak.
Penn ended the Devils’ run after Meredith Cain, who led the Quakers with four goals and an assist, found the back of the cage at the 11:53 mark. Duke responded with goals from Bullard and Quirke to go up 6-2 halfway through the opening period.
Looking to shift the momentum in their direction prior to halftime, the Quakers netted two unanswered scores to pull within two with 8:29 to play in the opening stanza. However, sophomore Makenzie Hommel’s goal, her 18th of the season, on a free position shot with 7:22 to go gave Duke the 7-4 margin it would take into the intermission.
The first half belonged to the Blue Devils with Duke outshooting Penn 18-7 in the opening period. Duke also dominated the draw, 9-3.
Duke picked up where it left off to start the second half, notching back-to-back goals in the first 3:03 to extend its lead to 9-4 with just under 27 minutes left on the clock. Thomas picked up her third goal of the game just 44 seconds into the second stanza and Hamm followed with her team-leading 46th goal of the season 3:20 later.
Cain struck for the Quakers to cut Duke’s margin to 9-5, but Kim Wenger found Bullard for a score with 21:27 left to increase Duke’s lead to five goals.
Despite the deficit, a pesky Penn squad kept fighting as Cain scored two unanswered for the Quakers to cut Duke’s advantage to three with 16:26 to play. Duke and Penn would trade two goals each over the final half of the second period, starting with Wenger’s free position tally which put the Blue Devils up by four.
Penn’s Erin Brennan scored the last two goals of the game for the Quakers, and Thomas added another for the Blue Devils as Penn could not cut Duke’s lead under three the rest of the way.
Duke goalie Mollie Mackler finished the game with eight saves and the Blue Devils’ defense caused 11 Penn turnovers on the afternoon. Quaker goaltender Emily Leitner tied a career-high with nine stops in the loss.
With the win, the Blue Devils advance to the quarterfinal round of the NCAA Tournament for the seventh consecutive season and will face No. 4 Florida Saturday, May 21 in Gainesville, Fla. Duke is in search of its sixth trip to the national semifinals and first since making four consecutive appearances at the final weekend from 2005-08..