May 7, 2009

Duke Carries Momentum into NCAA Tournament

by Jesse Baumgartner | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

With five losses this season, all against teams ranked in the top 10 at the time, this Duke women's lacrosse team has not been a world beater.

The Blue Devils have taken more than their share of lumps as they head into NCAA tournament play this weekend.

But for coach Kerstin Kimel, there's nothing wrong with that approach.

"I just think that we've kind of been like a steady work in progress. And I think teams that I've had in the past, some of them have maybe have peaked too early," she said. "They've been able to play better earlier in the season. I'll take a team any day that takes their time figuring out who they are. So long as they end up in the position they're in now, where they're playing their best ball."

And that's exactly what Duke has done.

After losses to Maryland, Georgetown, Northwestern and North Carolina during the regular season, the Blue Devils beat Boston College and UNC (by 10 goals) in the ACC tournament before a rematch with the Terps. Despite ultimately losing 12-11, Duke had the nation's No. 2 team down 8-4 at one point during its third game in four days.

"We kind of feel like nothing that we do at this point will be harder than what we faced in those four days up in Blacksburg," Kimel said. "Even though a loss came from that, I think our kids gained a lot of confidence."

For the most part, the losses along the way have been close affairs -- four of them by a combined six goals. But the most lopsided defeat might have had the most impact.

On April 3, the Blue Devils went out to Evanston, Ill., to take on unanimous No. 1 Northwestern. After taking a quick 3-0 lead and ending the half down by just one goal, Duke scored just two goals the rest of the way in a 13-7 loss.

"For the first half of that game, we felt like we really controlled the tempo of the game," Kimel said.
"And we were executing our gameplan really well. And then the second half, we kind of strayed from that. After the game, once the kids had a chance to look at it, there was this sense of, 'We had this great opportunity, and we didn't stay disciplined in certain areas of our game.'"

That loss and the others have not stopped the Blue Devils from entering the NCAA tournament as a squad continuing to move in the right direction.

Duke will open first-round play Sunday with a recognizable opponent in fellow ACC member Virginia. The Blue Devils squeaked by the Cavaliers, 13-12, on March 28 in Charlottesville. In this case, Kimel said she thinks the familiarity is a good thing, given the timing with exams and following the exhausting conference tournament tilt.

"We feel like we're playing our best lacrosse right now," Kimel said, "which is a great feeling to have at this time of the year."

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