With senior captains Ali McCurdy and Chelsea Cook leading the charge, the Blue Devils are hungrier than ever to return the team to college’s largest stage.
Since missing the NCAA tournament last year for the first time since the 2004 season, the Blue Devils have added four new freshman to the mix, whose talents have already proven to be assets in the gym.
“We’re making a lot of progress,” head coach Jolene Nagel said. “We’re nowhere near where we want to be yet, but we’re still relatively young.”
The returning squad has been an integral part in helping to familiarize the new players with the Duke volleyball environment. McCurdy has been vocal on the back line, helping to mold the new freshmen before preseason begins.
“It’s great that we are so close both on and off the court,” McCurdy said. “We’re able to communicate really well what we think is working and what we might need to switch up a little bit.”
After the loss of senior middle blocker Christiana Gray, who was the cornerstone of the squad last season, the Blue Devils will have to make some adjustments, particularly with a challenging road schedule in front of them.
The graduated Gray delivered 137 blocks last season, second most on the team behind Cook.
“Christiana is a hard one to replace,” Nagel said. “But at the same time, we’ve gained a couple of good players here as freshmen that need some experience but I think are going to do great for us.”
McCurdy agrees that staying in the moment is the primary concern for the team at this stage and said that focusing on the present is going to allow the girls to excel on the court.
After last season’s abundance of nagging injuries, the Blue Devils are healthy and poised for a comeback. Nagel said Duke was also aided by the exposure it got when the team was abroad in Europe during the summer.
“Last year, not making the NCAA tournament really left a sour taste in our mouth,” Cook said. “We’ve been working hard every day since then to try to get back to that point.”
Hard work is something that McCurdy also knows a lot about, after being named back-to-back ACC Defensive Player of the Year in 2011 and 2012.
“[McCurdy] is the hardest worker on our team, and she’s been that way since our freshman year,” Cook said. “She holds herself to such a high standard that everyone else is pushing to be just as hard of a worker as she is.”
McCurdy’s diligence is evidenced by her continued improvement on the court every season. Nagel said that McCurdy’s knack for correcting problem areas in her game is what makes her such an important part of the team, particularly as a captain.
“She has a lot of special qualities, and I see her continuing to have a great year and to be the anchor of our defense,” Nagel said. “I feel very comforted to know we have both [McCurdy] and [Cook] out there.”