WINSTON-SALEM, N.C.—After a grueling weekend at home with back-to-back long matches, the Blue Devils knew they would have to dig deep to come out ahead of an energetic Demon Deacon squad.

But Duke couldn’t find its footing, failing to find any momentum and ultimately falling to a team the Blue Devils handed a 3-1 loss early in the season.

Duke was swept 3-0 (25-22, 25-23, 25-21) by Wake Forest Wednesday night at the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The Blue Devils had three players with a negative hitting percentage and trailed the Demon Deacons by more than 10 kills, ultimately losing their second straight match.

“We just were not playing as a team tonight, as well as we have been,” Duke head coach Jolene Nagel said. “A strength of ours is playing as a team, and we didn't execute as well as we needed to.”

Against a team reeling from a four-match skid and close to the conference's cellar, the Blue Devils (16-10, 8-7 in the ACC) started off fast with an early lead in the first set—but that’s where the match went all wrong for Duke.

Exploding with a 6-0 run to take a 12-7 advantage, the Blue Devils maintained a comfortable lead at 21-16, but Duke gave up four straight points due to attack miscues to bring the Demon Deacons (12-15, 4-11) within one. 

Although Wake Forest also suffered its own share of costly mistakes—notching nine errors in the first period—the Demon Deacons made up for their miscues with a powerful offensive duo in senior Kylie Long and sophomore Caitlyn Della. Long—who totaled eight kills in the set and 18 in the match—spearheaded an unanswered five-point run with four kills, stealing the set 25-22 for Wake Forest.

“We didn't put enough pressure on them with our serve, and then they put a lot of pressure on us with their serve because we weren't able to get our offense going,” Nagel said. “We talked and talked about how tough of a match this normally is for us, here playing Wake mid-week, and we just didn't play with the urgency we needed.”

Wake Forest built an early second-set 8-4 lead thanks to a 4-0 run, mainly due to attacking errors from the Blue Devils. However, Duke quickly scored three straight points to come within one again. From there, the Blue Devils held the Demon Deacons to a bitter back-and-forth, with 15 ties in the set and six lead changes. But with the score tied at 23, a powerful kill from freshman Caroline Kuhn followed by an untimely attack error by sophomore Samantha Amos handed Wake Forest the set.

“We made some adjustments going into the second set, and those were good adjustments to make—we had different matchups on their hitters,” Nagel said. “[The second set] would have been a really good one to get.”

By the start of the final set, the Blue Devils looked like they were in disarray. Multiple three-point runs—largely due to Duke attack errors and kills from Long—put the Blue Devils in an early 17-9 hole. Although Duke tried to get some sort of rhythm to trim the gap to 17-13, the Demon Deacons ultimately held the lead 23-19. The Blue Devils scored twice at match point, but Della brought the Blue Devils down with a final kill right through Duke’s unprotected backcourt.

After a tough five-set loss to Louisville just three days prior, the Blue Devils’ setback couldn’t have come at a worse time. Although Duke’s net game was solid through the evening—garnering 8.5 blocks—its offensive efficiency was painfully lacking. Payton Schwantz and Cadie Bates—normally prolific scorers—combined for just eight kills and 13 attack errors. In fact, the only Blue Devil to hold double-digit kills was outside hitter Jessi Bartholomew with 10.

“It comes down to us needing more production offensively, and that comes down to controlling that first touch and controlling that serve and controlling that first touch on defense so we can do more offensively,” Nagel said. “To have three hitters in the negative—two being outside [hitters]—doesn’t help us win the match.”

Duke will return to play Sunday afternoon at Pittsburgh, with just five contests left in the regular season.

“We certainly have to make sure they have a chance to rest to make sure we can go back hard at it and be ready to go this weekend at Pittsburgh,” Nagel said.