Blue Devil head coach Jolene Nagel woke up Friday morning with 497 career wins. After the Blue Devils’ three victories this weekend, Nagel became just the third active volleyball coach in the ACC with 500 career wins.
Duke (8-1) easily defeated Elon (5-6) Friday night and followed up with a dominating victory over East Carolina (1-8) Saturday morning. A showdown with talented Northeastern (8-3) later that evening gave Nagel her landmark victory. The only problem—no one told Nagel about her momentous achievement beforehand.
“To be honest with you, I had no idea,” she said. “This was a complete surprise. I think we just get used to trying to get the next one.”
Nagel’s career 500-262 record includes stints at both Cornell and Georgetown, as well as 14 seasons at Duke. After defeating the Huskies for her 500th win, Nagel shared an emotional moment with her players and thanked an unusually large crowd for their support and enthusiasm for Blue Devil volleyball.
“It was a great feeling,” sophomore setter Kelsey Williams said. “It was awesome. She deserves it. She works so hard. It felt good to be able to help her out with that.”
Led by sophomore outside hitter Jeme Obeime’s 11 kills on a .526 hitting percentage, Duke effortlessly handled the Phoenix Friday evening, 25-14, 25-21, 25-23. The Blue Devil defense held Elon to a meager .096 hitting percentage. Senior middle blocker Christiana Gray led the defense with six blocks, and sophomore libero Ali McCurdy totaled 20 digs. Freshmen Elizabeth Campbell and Emily Sklar continued their impressive beginning to the season, combining for 15 kills.
Duke breezed through a Saturday morning matchup with the Pirates in similar fashion to Friday’s contest, sweeping East Carolina 25-21, 25-15, 25-10. Gray led the offense with 13 kills, posting just one error on 18 attacks. Campbell recorded 10 kills as well—it was her first game in double digits as a Blue Devil. Williams teamed up with fellow sophomore Maggie Deichmeister to post 35 of Duke’s 41 assists. But once again, the Blue Devil defense proved to be the overwhelming force in the match—the team improved from Friday’s strong effort, limiting East Carolina to an anemic .029 hitting percentage.
After sweeping the Pirates, the Blue Devils squared off against the Huskies in Saturday night’s tournament finale. Duke dropped the opening set 25-21, committing eight errors and recording a .162 hitting percentage. The Blue Devils regrouped and took the second set 25-17, led by Sklar’s seven kills and McCurdy’s nine digs. But it was Williams’ 12 assists that put her teammates in good attacking positions and helped limit Duke to just three errors.
After jumping out to a 9-5 lead to begin the third set, the Blue Devils recorded three errors and allowed Northeastern to move on top 12-9. The Huskies capitalized on several Duke errors and maintained their led up to 20-17.
Then the 2,700 plus crowd in Cameron came alive, and the Blue Devils made their move. A service error by Northeastern’s Megan Kehoe brought Duke to within two. Another Huskies’ attack error, followed by a Sklar kill leveled the score at 20 and forced a Northeastern timeout. Both teams traded points back and forth all the way to 24-24, when Campbell took advantage of a set from Williams to put the Blue Devils up by one. An attack error by the Huskies gave Duke the set 26-24, and all the momentum swung in the Blue Devils’ favor.
“We just stayed really calm and played it like we were winning,” Williams said. “We played relaxed even though the points were going back and forth, and it was a tight moment. But that momentum swing was huge for us going into the fourth set.”
Obeime opened the fourth set with a powerful kill, and Duke jumped out to a 4-0 lead. The Blue Devils took advantage of a demoralized Northeastern side and quickly ended the final set, 25-14. Sklar and Campbell combined for 25 digs, but it was the combination of Williams and Obeime that proved too much for the Huskies in the match’s critical moments. Williams finished the match with 44 assists, and Obeime posted 14 kills and only three errors.
“[Obeime] is having a fantastic year,” Nagel said. “She’s been really consistent and coming out here and being able to perform like that every night. It’s really exciting to see that. She is only a sophomore, and she really stepped it up a notch from freshman year to this year.”
Duke ramped up its defensive effort after the first set and held Northeastern to hitting percentages of .085, .038 and .000 in the final three sets. Four Blue Devils posted double-digit digs, led by McCurdy with 25—in her fourth straight game with 20 or more.
“That is important to me as a coach,” Nagel said. “I want them to be as excited about that as I am. Great defensive effort tonight, especially [after] losing the first set and working together and fighting hard.”
After the game, former Duke volleyball standout Kellie Catanach asked Nagel about her time at Duke and what it has meant to her.
“I’m not as young as I used to be,” Nagel said. “We’ve had really great student athletes here at Duke. I am really very lucky to be here.”