This is a new half of the season. A new beginning. And for Duke, things must change.
Entering the second half of ACC play, the Blue Devils (12-11, 3-8 in the ACC) have recently been stressing change. Last time Duke faced Triangle opponents North Carolina and N.C. State, it surrendered both matches. When Duke takes on North Carolina and N.C. State Fraiday and Saturday nights, respectively, at Cameron Indoor Stadium, head coach Jolene Nagel is confident that things will be different this time around.
“[This week at practice] has been a week of change,” Nagel said. “We are willing to change in order to get better even though at times, it’s scary to find that strength to change. This time, we are open to trying something different. Our team has decided that we need to do that.”
Although both the Tar Heels and the Wolfpack are playing really well right now—both teams received numerous votes in the AVCA Coaches ranking—Duke has vastly improved and undergone a lot of change during the past month since the teams last faced off, Nagel said.
“This team has done a lot of soul searching and continued to work really hard,” Nagel said. “They did have a good understanding of their opponent the first time around and even better now because they have had the opportunity to be out there [on the floor with them].”
The last time the Blue Devils faced the Tar Heels (17-4, 8-3) and Wolfpack (19-3, 9-2), Duke lost 3-2 and 3-1, respectively. Duke currently sits ninth in the conference ahead of Maryland, Wake Forest and Virginia. N.C. State and North Carolina sit third and fourth, respectively.
The Blue Devils will undoubtedly look to their consistent outside hitter, Jeme Obeime for offensive production. The sophomore currently leads the team in kills so far this season with 236. Standout freshman Emily Sklar has amassed 219 and middle blocker senior Christiana Gray has recorded 219.
North Carolina freshman middle blocker Paige Neuenfeldt, who was named the ACC Player of the week this past week, looks to lead the Tar Heels in this gritty rivalry matchup.
N.C. State currently ranks second in the conference in terms of service aces, averaging 1.38 per set. Duke has not lost to the Wolfpack at home since 1988 and holds a 59-29 all-time record against them.
The Wolfpack own one of the top defenses in the ACC, limiting opponents to a mere .155 hitting percentage.
In terms of Blue Devil defense, Duke relies on junior libero, Ali McCurdy, who leads the conference in digs by an impressive margin. McCurdy averages 5.78 digs per set, way ahead of second-place Ryan Shaffer of Miami who averages 4.71 per set.
“Ali has been very solid for us this season and I think she is one of those players who is so coachable,” Nagel said. “She continues to get better all the time.... She has gone up in skill and become a lot more consistent. [I also see improvement in] her leadership. She has been declared a captain on the court and is now learning a little bit more about how to handle that role.”
The Blue Devils look to record two key conference wins this weekend with a home court advantage. The Blue Devils are 3-8 in the ACC right now, but 8-3 in all home matches. Nagel, however, stressed the fact that she and her coaching staff look at things one game at a time.
“We don’t focus on the record,” Nagel said. “As a coach I am just trying to make sure that we are getting better each day and preparing for the next opponent. We know we can do better. We have reflected on the fact that we need to change a little bit. We have been so close in some matches and just have to do some things a little bit differently [to turn those losses to wins.]”