Although Duke has not performed up to its standard in recent weeks—dropping three of its last four matches and only winning two sets total in those losses—it is looking to turn things around for the rest of the ACC gauntlet. 

With the Blue Devils facing two opponents they are tied with in the ACC standings this weekend, they must minimize errors and maintain a high level of energy to snap the skid. Duke will host Miami Friday at 6:30 p.m. and Florida State Sunday at 1 p.m. at Cameron Indoor Stadium after losses to rivals North Carolina and N.C. State last weekend.

“It’s a tough weekend, no doubt about it,” Blue Devil head coach Jolene Nagel said. “Whenever you have to play strong opponents like Florida State and Miami, you just have to come prepared to make mid-game adjustments and deal with what's been dealt to us, but I have full faith that we will come and compete.”

Unforced attacking errors have plagued Duke (11-6, 3-3 in the ACC) recently, making it nearly impossible for the team to pull out victories in close sets. A string of three attack errors in four points by the Blue Devils helped the Wolfpack go on a 6-0 run late in the second frame, which Duke was one point away from winning before the comeback.

“Hopefully, we’ll be better this weekend in fighting through the entire game,” Nagel said. “We had such nice leads, but we just kind of let up.”

The Blue Devils have steadily improved their defense as the season has progressed. Freshman Summer Brown and sophomore Samantha Amos controlled the net and helped Duke notch 12 blocks in its last game against N.C. State. 

The Blue Devils will face Florida State, a team with four players who already have at least 100 kills this season, and Miami (9-3, 3-3), which averages 13.4 kills per set. Duke will need its defense to show up in order to have a chance of winning either game.

“We’re not the biggest team out there," Nagel said. "We have to be able to control the ball when we get a chance to touch it in order to slow [Florida State and Miami’s] offenses down.”

Whether Duke’s defense succeeds Friday will depend on how well it contains Florida State senior Milica Kubura, who stands at a towering 6-foot-4. Kubura, a first-team All-ACC selection last year, leads the Seminoles (9-5, 3-3) in kills with 202.

Duke also needs to continue to spread the ball equally between its top hitters, freshman Payton Schwantz and senior Cadie Bates. Schwantz has had a stellar rookie year so far, averaging 3.0 kills per set at a high hitting percentage of .256. Bates has also given the Blue Devils a spark this season with a team-high 201 kills.

“We have to focus on controlling the ball on first touch,” Nagel said. “If we can do that, not only can [Schwantz and Bates] get involved but also our middle blockers be involved, which opens everybody up.”

Duke will still be without sophomore Natalie Schilling, one of its five players with more than 100 kills, who was injured in the first set of the Oct. 6 matchup against North Carolina. Schilling’s injury adds on to what has been an unlucky season thus far for the Blue Devils, as junior Leah Meyer has also struggled with her share of injuries. 

“[The injuries] have been a little bit of an emotional thing for all of us,” Nagel said.

Consistency on both sides of the ball will give Duke the stability it needs to win this weekend. The Blue Devils usually show that they have enough talent to compete, but struggle with staying disciplined throughout sets and allow opponents to capitalize on mistakes.

“We might not have the size, but everything else has got to be in place for us to execute properly,” Nagel said. “We have to focus on repetitiveness throughout the game. We can’t aim for one kill. We have to get multiple kills. It’s not good enough to have just one good pass. We have to have multiple good passes and do it all even when we’re under pressure.”