For the second consecutive weekend, Duke racked up two early wins followed by a blowout loss to a top-10 opponent.
The Blue Devils traveled to Minneapolis to compete in the Diet Coke Classic at Williams Arena. After a decisive straight-set victory against Western Illinois Friday, Duke notched another straight-set win against Ball State Saturday. No. 4 Minnesota handed the Blue Devils a straight-set defeat in the second game of Duke's Saturday double-header.
“We developed a lot as a team on Friday and Saturday,” head coach Jolene Nagel said. “It’s hard to go through it at first, but it’s going to pay us dividends down the road.”
Duke (4-2) opened the weekend by sweeping Western Illinois (2-5), with the offense totaling 52 kills on the night. Sophomore setter Maggie Deichmeister led the Blue Devils with 23 assists and 11 digs, and sophomore Elizabeth Campbell and junior Jeme Obeime each recorded 11 kills.
Ball State provided a tougher test for the Blue Devils. Duke overcame several deficits in the first two stanzas, but were once again able to take the match in straight sets. The Cardinals (4-3) fought to tie the third set at 22, but crucial kills from Obemie and Cook allowed Duke to take lead and the final set, 25-22.
Despite two early wins, Nagel emphasized the Blue Devils need to cut down unforced errors and strengthen their service game. Duke managed just a .176 hitting percentage in its second victory against Ball State, posting 24 attack errors.
“We served better this weekend than we did last weekend,” Nagel said. “But I still think we have a ways to go in that area to eliminate our errors but still serve tough.”
The Blue Devils posted improved serving numbers in their third match, but still could not compensate for their hitting errors. The Golden Gophers (7-0) forced Duke into another 24 errors as the Blue Devils dropped the contest in straight sets, 25-19, 25-16, and 25-17.
“I think we are going to learn a ton from our match [Saturday] night, but it definitely exposes some of our weaknesses and really tells us what we need to work on,” Nagel said. “
Defensive specialist and team captain Ali McCurdy held down the back line for the Blue Devils, but the team could not manage to execute offensively, tallying a season-low .097 hitting percentage.
Even despite two losses to top-10 teams so far this season, Nagel maintains that the team will be better for it in the long run.
“I think we just have to continue to get better,” Nagel said. “By playing such strong competition, it really tells us that we have to work really hard this week to continue to develop as a team.”