Fall Ball Focus: Duke Women 'Came Back to Win' this Fall

PHOTO BY PEYTON WILLIAMS

Maddie Jenner returns as one of the nation's top threats in the draw circle.


With five seconds left against then-No. 2 Boston College, Duke was already celebrating.

Maddie Jenner’s alley-oop goal with just over one minute to play in the penultimate game of the 2022 regular season had given the Blue Devils the go-ahead goal.

But five days later, Duke got blown out by No. 1 North Carolina. Then, the Blue Devils fell to Notre Dame in the first game of the ACC tournament. A loss to Maryland in the second round of the NCAA tournament ended Duke’s season, and coach Kerstin Kimel said her team looked “hungover” from the success of the BC game.

But this fall, Kimel has a 41-player roster chock-full of experience, and last year’s disappointing end is fuel for her whole team — especially the Blue Devils’ 13 seniors and four returning fifth-year players.

“They came back to win,” Kimel said. “That message is being reiterated right now in player meetings with our fifth-year and fourth-year students.”

Duke also added four graduate transfers and seven highly touted freshmen this year, so although Kimel and her team have their sights set on a deep postseason run, their focus right now is on onboarding and educating their newest players.

If Kimel had it her way, the scoreboard would be turned off all fall.

“We’re not trying to win the national championship of fall ball,” Kimel said.

LAST SEASON

Though the postseason didn’t end how Kimel wanted, the Blue Devils’ 16 wins were their most since going 16-5 in 2015. Three of their wins came over ranked teams: No. 14 Notre Dame, No. 16 Virginia and No. 2 Boston College. Duke went 6-2 in the demanding ACC, including a two-goal loss to then-No. 3 Syracuse.

Fueled by Catriona Barry (56 goals, 37 assists) and Katie DeSimone (60 goals, 25 assists), Duke finished seventh in the nation in scoring offense with an average of 16.2 goals per game.







BIGGEST FALL QUESTION

Can Duke’s defense step up to match its offensive efficiency?

With Barry and DeSimone leading the attack last season, Duke’s offense was a force to be reckoned with. But its defense allowed 11.0 goals per game, good for 26th in the nation.

Redshirt senior Maddie Johnston and senior Cubby Biscardi will infuse the back line with plenty of experience, and fifth-year goalie Sophia LeRose is a proven leader in net, but Duke will have to take a step forward on defense to keep up with its hot-handed attack.

MARQUEE ADDITION: GILLIAN CURRY

A graduate transfer from Elon, Curran broke four program records as a senior last season — career draw controls (195), single-season draw controls (79), single-season, conference-only draw controls (29), and single-game draw controls (12). She also led the Phoenix in goals (22), assists (18), free position goals (10) and draw controls (79). Maddie Jenner was Duke’s go-to draw control specialist last season, but Curran has proven skills to add depth to Kimel’s program — which is exactly what she’s looking for.

“We want to go into February with a really solid group of players that we can pull from and rotate in on a regular basis,” Kimel said.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE: KERRY NEASE

The midfielder battled with illness throughout last season, limiting her appearances to eight games as a freshman. The midfielder registered a goal and two assists, plus nine draw controls. Though Nease tried to play as best she could, Kimel said she could tell something was off.

“We really wanted her to be ready last year,” Kimel said. “She just had no energy.”

Now, Nease is back at full capacity, and in scrimmages against High Point and Davidson this fall, Nease has already made her presence known.

“She’s got a great motor, and she’s really physically strong and can run all day,” Kimel said.

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