Duke’s season came to an end last Tuesday as the Blue Devils dropped their final regular season match to Wake Forest.
With no ACC postseason play to look forward to, Duke (15-17, 6-14 ACC) will not have a chance to play its way into the NCAA Tournament. The Blue Devils have not missed the tournament since 2005.
“It’s very disappointing that we weren’t selected,” Duke head coach Jolene Nagel said. “It’s a great honor when a team is selected. That’s something that our teams haven’t had to experience in a long time, that disappointment. I think it’s important that the team understands that it is really difficult to be one of those 64 teams selected.”
The Blue Devils closed the season losing five of their last six matches, including Tuesday’s defeat versus the Demon Deacons (34-32, 18-25, 25-20, 25-27, 11-15).
Duke jumped out to a 2-1 lead against Wake Forest (11-21, 5-15 ACC) thanks to strong offensive play from several of its younger members. Sophomore Jeme Obeime and freshman Emily Sklar combined for 14 kills on .542 hitting to give the Blue Devils the opening stanza, and freshman middle blocker Elizabeth Campbell knocked down five kills without an error to help Duke capture the third set.
Recording eight errors and a hitting percentage of just .122, the Blue Devil attack faltered in the fourth set, which Wake Forest captured to even the score at 2-2. After pulling ahead to take an 8-5 lead in the fifth frame, Duke allowed the Demon Deacons to go on a 6-1 run and eventually take the set and the match. Five Blue Devils reached double digit kills on the night, led by Sklar with 17. Campbell and Obeime each posted 15 kills, and junior middle blocker Chelsea Cook added 11 kills and six blocks. Sophomore setter Maggie Deichmeister, filling in for the injured Kelsey Williams, facilitated the offense and dished out 64 assists.
In her last match as a Blue Devil, senior middle blocker Christiana Gray tallied 13 kills and eight blocks. Gray finished the season just three kills behind the Duke leader, Obeime, and three blocks behind Cook, the Blue Devils’ blocks leader on the year.
“Christiana has had a tremendous year,” Nagel said. “She has been very consistent out there offensively for us, and her blocking has been much improved. We’re going to miss her intensity and her drive. She has been intimidating to opponents because of what she can do offensively and defensively for us out there. She’s a big loss as we build up to our next season.”
Junior libero Ali McCurdy continued her fantastic play against the Demon Deacons, recording 18 kills and increasing her school single-season digs record to 672. With a year of eligibility left, McCurdy sits at second on Duke’s all-time digs list with 1,945 digs during her first three years as a Blue Devil.
“She has continued to improve her game since freshman year,” Nagel said. “She has continued to get better each season with little touches to her game.”
For Duke, the 2012 campaign did not end quite how Nagel or her team might have expected—the Blue Devils have not had a losing record since 2004. Several personal records and All-ACC selections highlight a season ending without a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament.
McCurdy broke her single-season digs record, which she already set in 2011, and was named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year for the second straight season. McCurdy also received her third straight selection to the All-ACC team. Gray also received her third All-ACC selection after leading the Blue Devils with a .308 hitting percentage. Gray finished the season with 491 blocks, the fourth highest total in school history, and 1,112 kills, making her one of only 21 players in the history of Duke volleyball to reach four digits in kills.
Nagel also etched her name into the collegiate volleyball history books this season, recording her 500th career win in September against Northeastern. Only three active coaches in the ACC have reached the 500-win mark.
“Being at a place like Duke you attract the best and the brightest,” Nagel said. “I would trade all [the wins] for our team to be going to the NCAA Tournament right now and have the opportunity to compete for an NCAA championship. The reality is that we’re a great institution that attracts great people, as well as great students and really accomplished athletes.”
Nagel will have a strong group of returning players next year to help add to her impressive win total.
Graduating only three seniors—Gray, outside hitter Megan Hendrickson, and libero Nailah Waterfield—Duke will have a strong returning cast for the 2013 season.
All-ACC freshmen team selections Sklar and Campbell proved vital to the Blue Devil offense this season, finishing the year second and fourth in kills, respectively, for the team. Sklar and Campbell also bolstered the Duke defensive effort. Sklar finished the year second only to McCurdy in digs, and Campbell posted .74 blocks per set, the third-highest total on the team.
McCurdy and Cook, both juniors, will anchor the Duke defense next year. Cook led the Blue Devils with 1.09 blocks per set and also added 247 kills. McCurdy will look to break Duke’s single-season digs record for the third year in a row and become the Blue Devils’ all-time career digs leader.
“I think there are some great things to come,” Nagel said. “We have a lot of work ahead of us, but I’m very optimistic about how we’re going to be able to make that happen.”