DURHAM, N.C. — It was starting to look like one of those nights for Duke. The Blue Devils had taken 18 shots with Imani Dorsey and Toni Payne combining for 10 of them. Illinois State had one. Duke had a 5-0 advantage in corner kicks, and the Redbirds had to scramble to clear the ball off their line on three occasions.
The scoreboard still said 0-0, though. But it was only halftime.
The pressure seemed to be building – on both teams. Would the Redbirds hold up? Could Duke do enough to win, given that what they had already done was not enough? Notre Dame, Florida State and Minnesota had already been knocked out the tournament. Would they be next?
“In the first half, it was a little tense,” said Duke head coach Robbie Church. “But, honestly, what do you say at that point? At halftime, you could see that everyone was okay and that we just needed to keep doing what we were doing.”
Just two minutes into the second half, Toni Payne got behind the defenders, and beat Redbird keeper Haley Smith to the ball and gave Duke a 1-0 lead.
“If it’s a big game, Toni Payne is going to show up,” said Church. “That’s what she does. She’s a senior and she doesn’t want it to end.”
But then with 14 minutes to play, Illinois State on its second shot of the game, tied it up. Brook Ksiazek scored her first goal of the season, finishing off a rebound from a corner kick. Just like that, with a shocking momentum shift, it’s 1-1.
But wait, there goes Toni Payne again. Just two minutes after Illinois State tied it up, Payne sliced through the Redbirds’ defense and into the penalty area and unloaded from 16 yards – 2-1 Duke. Junior Casey Martinez decided to make it official just 94 seconds later, expertly curling a direct kick around the wall from 19 yards – 3-1 Duke.
“When they tied it up, we didn’t panic,” said senior defender Lizzy Raben. “We all trusted we would get it done.”
Raben, one of the Blue Devils captains, believes the team’s confidence and mindset are products of last year’s NCAA tournament run that ended in a heartbreaking 1-0 national championship game loss to Penn State.
“Last year, we worked a lot on the team culture, our team values and identity,” she said. “We did a lot of meals together, a lot of team bonding stuff, and we worked on our attitudes. Everyone got on the same page. We have carried that over to this year, and we are stronger because of it.”
Duke stays at home for its next test Sunday against Northwestern.