The Blue Devils have solidified a No. 5 ranking in the ITA Poll, cruising past Elon and UNC-Charlotte in the first two matches of the regular season. This weekend, Duke is slated to host one of the 15 ITA Kickoff Tournament regional qualifiers.
Of the 60 teams competing in regional qualifiers, only 15 will travel to Seattle, Wash. for the all-important ITA National Indoor Tournament.
The depth of the Blue Devils makes them the favorite this weekend, as they prepare to take on Middle Tennessee State on Friday at 10 a.m.
“I don’t know if we’ve ever played them in the past,” head coach Ramsey Smith said. “But it’s always nice to get a fresh team. We don’t know too much about them.”
But the two teams have met once before. The last time the Blue Devils encountered the Lightning was nearly 40 years ago in Durham. Duke took that match 8-1.
Although they are both very different teams now, the Blue Devils recognize that they have done all they can to prepare for this competition.
“We’ve been working hard, and I think that breeds confidence,” junior Chris Mengel said. “I’m excited more than anything else, and I think everyone’s confident and ready to go.”
Sophomore Jason Tahir agrees, realizing that these are the two biggest matches of the season so far, but he does not anticipate that will distract the team from its goal.
“Getting through,” Smith said. “Our biggest goal is finding a way to win both matches.”
Although the other three teams appear evenly matched, Blue Devil players and coaches agreed that their toughest opponents this weekend will be ACC foe Virginia Tech.
Even though the Hokies maintain a No. 43 overall team ranking by the ITA, top players Andreas Bjerrehuus and Amerigo Contini will be tough opponents for the Blue Devils in both singles and doubles.
But sophomore Jason Tahir is more confident than ever in his doubles play. Alongside partner freshman Michael Redlicki, the two look forward to continued success on the court, both this weekend and throughout the rest of the season.
Tahir’s experience with multiple doubles partners has been good, he admits, but his partnership with Redlicki has been the longest and most successful doubles pairing he has had at Duke.
“He does a lot of things really well,” Tahir said. “I think we’re gelling as well as we ever have right now.”
Although this is just their third match of the regular season, the Blue Devils are counting on two wins to get them to Washington.
“This is huge for us,” Mengel said. “The past couple years, some of our biggest success has been at the National Indoor Tournament. To get there, we have to make sure we take care of business, be professional and get it done.”