April 24, 2014

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Blue Devils On Fire Entering ACC Tourney with UNC Win

By Laurel Pfahler | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter 

Junior Kerrin Maurer scored the game-winner with 26 seconds left in overtime to push the Blue Devils ahead of rival North Carolina. (John Strohsacker)

The Duke University women's lacrosse team needed a little reassurance after a roller coaster of a regular season.

It came in the form of an upset win over rival North Carolina in the final game last week – just in time to give the Blue Devils some confidence for what promises to be another competitive Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.

Duke (9-6, 3-4 ACC) lost back-to-back close games against Boston College and Notre Dame and dropped three of its last four games, including a 19-15 loss at Syracuse, but now heads into the quarterfinals with the fresh taste of an emotional victory.

The Blue Devils, ranked No. 9 in Lacrosse Magazine's Top 20, earned the No. 4 seed in the ACC tournament and meets fifth-seeded Virginia at 1 p.m. on Thursday in Chestnut Hill, Mass.

"I think it reaffirms what we always thought, which is that we are capable of doing a lot," Duke coach Kerstin Kimel said. "For us, it has been a little more of an up-and-down season than we expected but a lot of that is due to the fact we play in a competitive, crazy conference. If you don't show up with your 'A' game, you're going to get beat.

"It was a good experience going to (conference newcomers) Syracuse and Notre Dame, but we didn't perform. We had a good game plan against Carolina, and we did what we set our mind to. Hitting our stride going into the end of April, it's great timing."

Going into the Carolina game, Duke was 0-4 against top 10 opponents this season. The Tar Heels were ranked No. 2 at the time and had won the last three meetings against Duke dating back to the 2011 ACC Tournament.

But as Kimel pointed out, the projected winner on paper doesn't always win in a rivalry game like this one. The Duke-Carolina matchup has been a mostly competitive one since the programs both began in 1996. North Carolina won last year, 12-11 in overtime, and the teams have played 13 games decided by two goals or less since 2004.

This time, the Blue Devils scored two goals in the final 13 minutes to send the game to overtime, and junior Kerrin Maurer scored the game-winner with 26 seconds left in the second period of extra time. She and Sydney Peterson both finished with three goals for the game.

"It was a huge momentum swing for us," said Maurer, who has a team-best 47 goals this season. "We had a couple tough ACC losses, and I think that win will help us have more confidence and be more successful in the end. There have been a lot of ups and downs, but the later half of the year we just want to be the best we can be. We took those losses as a learning process, and we know we can't give up."

Duke's other losses this year came at the hands of Northwestern, Maryland and Georgetown. Kimel said uncharacteristically inconsistent play on defense played a factor, but she is seeing progress from some of the younger players such as freshmen Devon Russell, Kitty Morrissey and Isabelle Montagne and sophomore Claire Scarrone.

The Blue Devils also had to overcome the loss of senior midfielder Molly Quirke to a shoulder separation in early April, which forced Duke to make some personnel changes that now seem to be better meshing with the team's objectives.

"We tried to make some adjustments after Boston College and Syracuse, and we've been able to employ some of the things that worked well for us and we're working better as a unit so we can make more changes on the fly," Kimel said. "What we did well against Carolina was we played really patiently. We didn't foul a lot, and when the ball hit the ground, we were the first to the second-chance balls so we were able to create more chances on offense."

Duke will need another big game against No. 14 Virginia (9-7), which has won five of its last six games, including victories against Boston College and Notre Dame. The Cavaliers' turnaround from a 4-6 start began after a 16-11 loss to the Blue Devils on March 22.

"Virginia is playing its best lacrosse right now, so for us, it's a matter of looking at what worked well the last time we played and what didn't but also seeing what we can pull from our performance against UNC and what we expect from Virginia," Kimel said. "Virginia always prepares well for tournaments, so we have to be ready for whatever they throw at us, but come in and execute our game plan."


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