Friday night junior libero Ali McCurdy etched her name into the Duke record books for the second year in a row.
After breaking the single-season dig record last season, McCurdy eclipsed her own mark as the Blue Devils lost to Clemson for the second time this season.
“There’s a smile on my face when you ask about her,” Nagel said. “She has been such a coachable player over her career, and we have certainly seen improvement [in her play] each year that she has been here. And she has also turned into a vocal leader out there. She is developing those [leadership] skills right now. She has been phenomenal. She’s such a passionate defensive player.”
McCurdy racked up 17 digs on the night, bringing her season total to 654—the new Duke record with one match left to play on the year. The Tampa native brought her career total to 1,927. McCurdy is now 73 digs shy of becoming just the second player in Blue Devil history to reach 2,000 kills in four years.
“Ali is all about business,” Nagel said. “I don’t know if I can say enough good things about her. She is a really special player and has anchored our defense. People just shake their heads when It comes to her compared with the rest of the conference [dig numbers]. She just separates herself from everyone else.”
Despite McCurdy’s strong defensive play, and four Duke players with double-digit kills, the Blue Devils fell to the Tigers in five sets (21-25, 25-16, 19-25, 25-16, 15-12). Duke registered a .258 hitting percentage on the night, compared to Clemson’s .183, but the Blue Devils could not come back in the final set to topple the Tigers on their senior night in Jervey Gym.
Clemson won the first set handily behind 20 team kills compared to just 14 for Duke. Junior outside hitter Mo Simmons paced the Tigers with five kills in the opening stanza, and the Blue Devils committed seven attack errors, dropping the set by four points.
Sophomore Jeme Obeime led the way for Duke in the second frame, leading the Blue Devils with five kills. Duke jumped out to a 10-4 lead and took the set easily, holding the Tigers to a .064 hitting percentage and evening the score at 1-1.
The Blue Devils again committed seven errors in the third set, and Clemson took the frame with ease to take a 2-1 lead.
A fierce defensive effort at the net brought Duke back into the match in the fourth stanza. Junior Chelsea Cook and freshman Elizabeth Campbell tallied three blocks apiece, in part of a team effort to hold the Tigers to a meager .019 hitting percentage. Senior middle blocker Christiana Gray posted seven of her team-high 15 kills in the fourth stanza as the Blue Devils easily took the set and tied the match at 2-2.
“Christiana has been great,” Nagel said. “Ali has been an anchor to our defense, but so have our middles. Both Christiana and Chelsea have also been anchors and very consistent and solid with their blocking. The team really works around them.”
After falling behind early in the fifth frame, Duke rallied back to tie the score at 9-9. Clemson responded and took a 13-10 lead, and senior middle hitter Sandra Adeleye knocked down two kills in a row to give the Tigers the match.
The Blue Devils racked up 13 team blocks, compared to just seven for Clemson, but committed 29 attack errors and five service errors on the night.
Gray, Cook, Obeime and freshman outside hitter Emily Sklar all reached double-digit kills for Duke, and sophomore setter Kelsey Williams dished out 48 assists in the Blue Devils’ penultimate match of the year.
“I think that our team is really wants to turn the table against Wake [Forest] this time,” Nagel said. “After losing to Wake in three [sets] at home, we are ready and want to make a difference. I think we will be in that frame of mind when we head over [to Wake Forest]. I think we are all excited, we feel very thankful for our senior leadership this year.”