Duke rounded out its regular season non-conference play this weekend at the Michigan Invitational in Ann Arbor, dropping two of three matches to its stiffest competition of the young season.
After falling to Western Kentucky Friday afternoon, the Blue Devils (9-3) rallied to beat Eastern Michigan just a few hours later. In Saturday’s tournament finale, Duke came up just short to No. 22 Michigan (12-2), losing a closely contested fifth set to the host team.
“We knew it was going to be a challenging weekend,” Blue Devil head coach Jolene Nagel said. “We knew we were facing three opponents who were pretty strong, and we were excited about it.”
The Blue Devils wrapped up the weekend against the Wolverines, losing in a five-set heartbreaker, 22-25, 25-21, 20-25, 25-15 and 13-15. A rowdy Michigan crowd helped the Wolverines close out the back-and-forth match.
“It was one of those places that is not an easy environment to play,” Nagel said. “Their students were right behind us, yelling all sorts of things at our team. They had a good crowd.”
Trailing the Wolverines 2-1, Duke dominated the fourth set, holding Michigan to a .100 hitting percentage. Junior Chelsea Cook posted five kills in the set, trailed closely by sophomore Jeme Obeime and freshman Emily Sklar with four apiece.
After forcing a fifth set, the Blue Devils surged ahead to a 6-4 lead, only to see the score tied again at 10-10. The Wolverines took the next four points to go up 14-12 and closed out the match on a kill by junior outside hitter Lexi Erwin.
“In that fifth game, we needed to make a couple of plays at the end of the match to win it,” Nagel said. “That eats away at us, all of us, on the team and the staff.”
Obeime led the Blue Devils with 14 kills while Sklar and sophomore setter Kelsey Williams both recorded double-doubles. Sklar knocked down 13 kills and added 12 digs, and Williams posted 35 assists and 13 digs, giving her a double-double in each of the three matches. Cook finished the match a team-high .409 hitting percentage, while also adding seven blocks. Nagel acknowledged that Duke gained valuable experience facing tough competition on the road, but still felt that her team could have done better.
“It’s not that much of a consolation because our goals and our standards are so high,” Nagel said. “We can feel a teeny-weeny bit of gratification, but it hurts more because we were so darn close and we didn’t finish it out.”
After taking the first set 31-29 against the Hilltoppers (13-3) Friday afternoon, Duke dropped its next three sets 23-25, 14-25, 19-25. The Western Kentucky offense registered hitting percentages of .321 and .389 in the third and fourth sets to finish off the Blue Devils easily.
Western Kentucky senior outside hitter Jordyn Skinner, who was tournament MVP, recorded a double-double, posting 11 digs and pacing the Hilltoppers with 15 kills. Melanie Stutsman tallied 50 assists and only two errors.
Obeime led the way for the Blue Devils, posting 16 kills. Sklar and senior Christiana Gray added 12 and 10 kills, respectively, and Williams recorded 42 assists and 12 digs. Junior libero Ali McCurdy paced the Blue Devil defense with 22 digs—her fifth match with 20 or more this season—while Gray and Cook each posted five blocks.
Sloppy ball handling hampered Duke, and the Blue Devils dropped nine of the last 10 points to close out the match.
“I think we could have beaten them, but they are a very good team, and we had nine service errors,” Nagel said. “I feel like we didn’t give ourselves a chance.”
Duke rebounded later Friday evening to take down the Eagles (10-6) in four sets, 14-25, 25-23, 25-21, 27-25. After Eastern Michigan easily took the first set, the Blue Devils took each of the next three closely contested frames. Williams totalled 44 assists and a season-high 14 digs. Cook registered 10 kills and five blocks, while freshman outside hitter Elizabeth Campbell posted nine kills on a team-high .474 hitting percentage. Gray, the only Duke player to receive all-tournament honors, posted eight kills and five blocks.