In a tournament field worthy of an NCAA regional, nobody went home from the Duke Nike Classic completely satisfied.
Nominally, California laid claim to the championship of the women’s soccer invitational. The Golden Bears, ranked as high as 16th, capped their effort with a convincing 3-1 victory Sunday over No. 18 Duke behind a goal and two assists from tournament offensive MVP Arielle Ship.
Earlier Sunday, third-ranked North Carolina rallied past No. 13 Southern California 2-1, with Sarah Ashley Firstenberg netting the game-winner in the 68th minute. Because Cal and UNC tied 1-1 in the tournament’s first-round Friday, goal differential became the deciding factor in the Golden Bears’ favor, 2-1.
Duke (4-1-1), coming off a 1-0 victory over Southern Cal on Friday, never looked in sync against California (3-1-1). The Blue Devils had not surrendered a goal in five matches this season but found themselves trailing 2-0 less than 14 minutes in when Ship and forward Ifeoma Onumonu worked two give-and-go plays to perfection for a goal apiece.
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“They did a lot of things we wanted to do,” Duke coach Robbie Church said. “They really possessed the ball and moved us around the field. And when they had the opportunities, they finished.”
To its credit, Duke found its offensive spark when Church went to his bench and moved defender Christina Gibbons to an outside midfielder spot. In the 38th minute, Cal goalkeeper Emily Boyd couldn’t hang onto Gibbons’ corner kick, and Duke redshirt junior Danielle Duhl was there to knock the loose ball into the net for her first career goal and cut the lead to 2-1.
Despite regaining the momentum in the late stages of the first half, the Blue Devils couldn’t capitalize after intermission.
Although Duke took five shots in the opening 15 minutes of the second half, Cal’s Celeste Boureille drove home a shot from 18 yards off a corner kick after Ship found her open at the 18-yard line.
“If we could have gotten that tying goal and put the pressure back on them, it might have been a different story,” Church said.
UNC (5-0-1) saw its comeback efforts rewarded, however. Although the Tar Heels surrendered an early goal for the second straight game, as Sydney Sladek knocked in a loose ball for Southern Cal (2-3) off a free kick in the 10th minute, the Tar Heels equalized in the 32nd minute when Jessie Scarpa scored her second goal of the season following a free kick from midfield by Katie Bowen.
Southern Cal goalkeeper Sammy Jo Prudhomme parried Bowen’s kick, but the rebound went right to Scarpa, who finished from 12 yards at the right post.
The Tar Heels got the game-winner in the 68th minute, and again the goal came after Dorrance subbed out a half-dozen attacking players.
“I think it really wears them down, because most teams don’t sub as much as we do, sub the entire front line,” Firstenberg said. “It lets a lot more players play. We have a lot of talented players on our team.”
Darcy McFarlane controlled a ball in the midfield and passed across to Julia Ashley, who sent a long ball into the penalty area. Firstenberg got behind the defenders and headed in her third career goal and first of the season.
“I didn't know where the goalie was,” said Firstenberg, whose header looped over Prudhomme. “I didn’t want to hit it too hard or too soft. At first I thought she saved it. Luckily it rolled in.”
UNC center back Paige Nielsen was named the defensive MVP of the tournament. She and Ship were joined on the all-tournament team by UNC’s Scarpa and Joanna Boyles; Gibbons and Ashton Miller of Duke; Sandra Ley and Lorin Horn of California; and Kayla Mills and Morgan Andrews of Southern Cal.