DURHAM, N.C. – Led by a first half goal by two-time All-America Natasha Anasi, the Duke women’s soccer team upset second-seeded and sixth-ranked Florida on Friday evening at Koskinen Stadium in Durham, N.C., as the Blue Devils posted a 1-0 victory to advance to the NCAA Tournament Third Round.
With the win, Duke (9-8-5) will next face Arkansas (15-8) on Sunday, Nov. 24 at 1:00 p.m., at Koskinen Stadium. The Blue Devils carded their 10th straight victory at home in NCAA action and advanced to at least the NCAA Sweet 16 for the fourth straight year.
“It’s a tough group,” said Duke head coach Robbie Church. “Once we left Boston College in the early part of October … just really took a beating, and we knew we had to get points in every game that was coming up to even get to the NCAA Tournament. We did that. We fell a little bit with Carolina and Florida State, but now we go back to a situation that’s elimination and the kids … it starts with our senior class who doesn’t want to end their career. To be in the Sweet Sixteen again, is just a phenomenal feat with this team.”
Florida came in with the second-leading scorer in the nation in Savannah Jordan, who had totaled 22 goals on the year. Jordan got the match started in the 17th minute as she headed in an excellent attempt, but Duke redshirt junior goalkeeper Meghan Thomas made a diving stop to her left to keep the score, 0-0.
“She’s [Savannah Jordan] a great player,” said Anasi. “There’s a reason that she’s the No. 2 goal scorer. We were just focusing on having her play balls back. We didn’t want her to get anything in behind. If we can keep her in front of us, we knew that we could do a very good job playing against her and that’s what we did.”
Less than four minutes later, the Blue Devils would strike. Senior Mollie Pathman served a corner kick from the right side where redshirt senior Kim DeCesare was there to head it back to in front of the box. Anasi, a senior from Arlington, Texas, one-timed her second goal of the season to put the Blue Devils ahead 1-0. It marked her first career NCAA Tournament goal and the fourth tally of her career.
“It was a corner that was sent in,” said Anasi. “I think Kim [DeCesare] got the header, and I just knew that second balls were a big thing we’ve been working on. I tried to put myself in a good spot to put that away, and luckily Kimmy screened off the keeper and went in.”
Pathman and DeCesare added their second assists so far in the NCAA Tournament. A product of Durham, N.C., Pathman registered her seventh career assist in NCAA play to become Duke’s all-time leader in dishes in NCAA action.
“It was great. Natasha [Anasi] is a player who works really hard on defense, and to see her score was the lift that we needed,” commented Thomas. “She was amazing on defense, shut down one of their top scorers in the nation. She did everything today. I’m really happy and I’m really proud of her.”
Each team added two more shots to close the first half as Thomas notched two saves on the attempts by the Gators. Both teams closed the first 45 minutes with four shots and Thomas added four saves.
“What a great set play,” commented Church on Anasi’s goal. “Kimmy [DeCesare] made a great decision. Mollie [Pathman] drove it well, ball went to the backside. Lot of times people will try and put that on goal; she made a great decision [to] bring it back across. And it was such a great finish by Natasha [Anasi]. She’s been close so many times on set plays during the course of the year. She’s saved that one goal that we knew was coming at a really good point, too. I am just really proud of the kids and how hard they played.”
The second half was very even, but Duke featured the first scoring chance of the stanza as senior Laura Weinberg showed some fancy footwork as she drove into the box from the left side and passed to freshman Toni Payne. A native of Birmingham, Ala., Payne fired a left-footed shot that Florida keeper Taylor Burke dove to her right to make the stellar save in the 57th minute.
Florida put the pressure on Duke over the final 20 minutes as the Gators attempted five out of the final six shots but the Blue Devils held strong. In the 84th minute, Christen Westphal fired a shot at Thomas but the 6-2 netminder dove to the right and batted the ball outside the post to keep the score, 1-0, in favor of Duke.
“She shot it; I just did what I was supposed to do,” commented Thomas. “And it luckily it perished very far away and my team was there to clear it out.”
In the final minute, Florida attempted a header by Jordan, but the shot went wide left and the Blue Devils held on for their seventh shutout of the season. The Gators closed the match with an 11-7 shot advantage. Jordan was held to only three shots for Florida.
“I thought [Natasha Anasi and Lizzy Raben] did a good job,” commented Church on marking Jordan. “Savannah’s a great player. She’s had a wonderful year. It took both of them, but I thought we did a good job of fronting and backing players. Didn’t let her turn, didn’t let her get space, any separation. Just did a wonderful job of keeping her, as much as you can, at bay.
Duke was led by Kelly Cobb and Kaitlyn Kerr with two shots each, while Thomas added seven saves in the net for the Blue Devils.
“We went prevent defense a little bit,” Church said regarding the end of the match. “So we took a forward off and we dropped another so we went 4-2-3-1. They weren’t getting good looks. The one the girl hit from the outside, Megan [Thomas] made a fantastic save. But it really wasn’t that good of a look. We knew if we pulled a player off, they would come down the middle of the field on us. We made a decision and we stuck with it. Fortunately, it came out to be a good decision.”
Notes: • Arkansas advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 with a 1-0 win over St. John’s on Friday. • Duke got past Florida for the second straight time in the NCAA Tournament as the Blue Devils advanced, 4-2, on penalty kicks in 2010 in Gainesville, Fla. • The Blue Devils are now 4-3-2 this year at home. • Natasha Anasi helped Duke to the 39th career shutout over her four years. • Duke’s senior class has now advanced to the four straight NCAA Sweet 16. • The Blue Devils totaled their second straight match with a goal off a corner kick.