Through Ups and Downs of 2021, Sophia LeRose Makes Biggest Save of Her Career


Sophia LeRose made 11 saves in the second round against Maryland, including the game-winner as the buzzer sounded.

You’re not alone if you found yourself re-watching the field-level replay of Sophia LeRose’s last-second save against Maryland.

LeRose was doing it, too.

Watch the replay a second (or third, or fourth) time and you’ll count four Duke defenders swarming Maryland’s Libby May with just about 3 seconds left in the game and the Blue Devils clinging to a one-goal lead.

With four sticks in May’s face, she fired a shot to the top-right corner of the cage from just inside the left wing of the 8-meter arc. It was perfectly placed, putting extra pressure on LeRose. By doing their jobs, the defenders also made LeRose’s job considerably harder.

“I don’t even think I was talking to the defense because I was so focused on trying to see that ball,” LeRose said Tuesday. “I watched the replay, and there were so many sticks in there. I was like, ‘How did I even see that?’”

She got her stick up just in time and popped the ball into the air. Maryland’s Catie May hauled in the rebound, but the buzzer had already sounded, sending Duke to its first NCAA quarterfinal since 2015.

It was LeRose’s 11th save of the game. She earned IWLCA Defensive Player of the Week honors just a few days later.

There are equal parts belief and disbelief when talking about the save of a lifetime. Those closest to LeRose have confidence in her ability to make saves, even the ones she’s “not supposed to make,” as graduate attacker Gabby Rosenzweig put it.

Still, the gravity of the situation coupled with the lack of a clear line of sight have made it a save worth talking about nearly a week later.

“I think from the sideline, the angle looked like it was going to go over the cage,” Duke coach Kerstin Kimel said. “But when you look at the angle that’s straight on at the cage, that ball was going for the top-right corner. The fact that she stayed so focused in that moment to be able to see the ball through the sticks and the chaos and the emotion of the moment was awesome.”

Kimel continued to say that LeRose has been a “phenomenal story for our season this year.” Every player has been shaken by a season enveloped in the COVID-19 pandemic, but LeRose’s year has been particularly rocky.

She entered the spring as Chase Henriquez’s backup. The junior from San Diego then took over the starter’s job on Feb. 26 against North Carolina after making eight saves in relief of Henriquez in the previous game against Virginia Tech.

But this season has been one of constant struggle for LeRose, who wasn’t cleared to play in last weekend’s first- and second-round games until Friday — the same day as the game against Mount St. Mary’s.

A Duke spokesperson said that LeRose has “battled some health issues both related and unrelated to the sport” this season, adding that the junior will speak on those issues when she’s ready. She missed a March 11 game against High Point and “hadn’t really been practicing the past couple weeks” leading into the NCAA tournament.

Kimel said that she’s “probably going to have surgery in the offseason on her shoulders.”

Through the ups and downs, LeRose has remained levelheaded. Kimel attributes LeRose’s success in key moments to that ability to drown out the noise and the chaos to focus on the yellow ball coming her way.

Henriquez has helped in that regard, too. A back-and-forth positional battle can be taxing on a relationship, especially for the goalie being displaced. But LeRose said she and Henriquez remain best friends. LeRose even read Henriquez’s speech at Duke’s senior banquet Monday night.

“We’ve been able to balance our friendship and being teammates,” LeRose said. “It’s hard when you’re fighting for a position with anyone — especially goalie. There’s only one goalie on the field. I think it’s even harder when you’re fighting against one of your best friends.

“We’ve never let what happens on the field impact our relationship off the field. I don’t think I could get through Duke without Chase.”

This Duke team is built on support, every single player on the roster experiencing the NCAA quarterfinals for the first time and thus savoring the moment together. It was LeRose who got them there, and few players were as excited as Rosenzweig, a graduate transfer from Penn enjoying her first season in Durham.

“When she made that save, I was the first one from the restraining line,” Rosenzweig said. “People were like, ‘How did Gabby get to Soph before the defenders got there?’ I ran at her as fast as I possibly could. It was such an amazing save.”

LeRose will have more opportunities for saves against second-seeded Northwestern, the top offense in the nation, on Saturday. Ever the balanced competitor, LeRose isn’t preparing as if Northwestern is the best offense.

The Wildcats are just another team in Duke’s way.

“If I go into a neutral mind and just say, ‘Hey, this is just another team we’re about to play,’ that’s where I find the most success,” she said. “I know what I have to do. I just have to do it.”

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