Before many fans could even make it to their seats, the Blue Devils had scored.
Right from opening kickoff of the women’s soccer game on Friday night, Duke operated at a speed superior to Pitt, coasting to a 3-0 victory in the ACC opener for both teams.
In the third minute of the contest, Duke freshman forward Imani Dorsey sent a pass up the right side in stride to Kelly Cobb, a senior midfielder. Cobb approached the net from the right side, snuck in behind Pitt’s back line near the box and sent a pass across the front of the goal as she slid. Awaiting the pass was a wide-open Christina Gibbons, a sophomore midfielder, who stuffed the ball into the net from point-blank range to put the visitors up 1-0.
At this point, the Panthers could be forgiven if they had déjà vu, having just given up a goal in the first few minutes of conference play for the second consecutive season. Pitt (4-5 overall, 0-1 ACC) lost its league opener to Boston College at home last year by the same score.
Head coach Greg Miller, obviously, was not pleased with the repeat showing.
“We go over things in practice, we draw things up and we show video and then it’s like something gets lost in translation,” Miller said. “You get excited about the first ACC game, you get excited that we’re at home and you hope things are different; and, for the second year in a row, we give up a goal in the first couple minutes of the game. So, we’re basically starting the game down one to nothing and that’s very, very frustrating.”
Senior captain and defender, Jackie Poucel, experienced that frustration while on the field.
“I was just thinking, ‘we just talked about this’,” Poucel said. “We’ve gone over this so many times. I just think it’s more about communication. I was just pissed off, obviously.”
Poucel simply wanted more focus from her team early in the game.
“We got outworked in the first 15 minutes, and it’s frustrating because we’ve gone over this, and we stress it in practice,” Poucel said. “We know what’s coming at us, and it’s like we don’t realize that it’s actually happening when it is happening.”
With the Panthers already reeling, Duke seized the opportunity to put the match away early.
Fast-forward to the seven-minute mark.
Cobb, the Duke forward, faced pressure on the left side just across the midfield stripe, but shook two Pitt defenders and dribbled through the middle third of the field. Running parallel towards the goal and into the box was Dorsey. Cobb spotted her and rolled a pass through the back line, which led Dorsey perfectly. Sensing the Pitt goalkeeper, Taylor Francis, charging from the net, Dorsey fired a shot toward the goal, past Francis and into the net as she fell to the turf to make the score 2-0.
Sophomore captain and midfielder, Siobhan McDonough, had a feeling that the game would go the way it did.
“Duke is the type of team that is very heavy offensively and I knew the game may end up like this because they have so much talent up front,” McDonough said. “There was nothing we could do but keep fighting.”
After that second goal, the game was over. Pitt’s defense could not slow down the blazingly fast front line of the Blue Devils, and ultimately had no answer on offense either.
In the 20th minute, Gibbons sent a long leading pass down the right side of the field once again. In pursuit were Duke’s Toni Payne and Taylor Pryce of Pitt, as they sprinted after the ball stride for stride. Payne would get to the ball first and gain possession. After composing herself for a moment, she went to work on Pryce. From about 20 yards out, Gibbons dribbled right, then back to the left, and cut towards the goal to put Pryce off balance. Once she found space, Gibbons fired a shot over the heads of Pitt defenders and into the top left corner of the goal. Duke went up 3-0.
Duke would win the shot margin by 15 to nothing in the first period, and finished the game with a 25 to six advantage in the shot category.
Despite the less than impressive first half, Pitt held Duke at three goals and played a more intense, physical game for the last 45 minutes.
At halftime, Jackie Poucel attempted to rally her teammmates.
“I just said to them, ‘This is our team, this is our field; the only people fighting out here right now are us and that’s all that matters,’” Poucel said. “ ‘I believe in every one of you out here, and you have to start believing in yourself.’”
Miller has waited for his team to put together a full 90-minute game for a while now, and he’s still waiting.
“I think we hung on in the first half,” he said. “We really didn’t start playing until the second half, we had a little bit more fight, and [we were] a little bit more physical and just a little more organized. I was pleased that we had a better response, but it was too big of a hole against too good of a team for us to try and dig out of.”
Pitt heads to Boston College on Thursday, September 25 for its ACC road game of the season.