Duke capped off its nonconference slate in style, earning its first victory against a ranked opponent with a comeback win.
The Blue Devils defeated No. 16 Illinois 3-1 Saturday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium. After dropping the first set 25-19, Duke regrouped and came back to take the final three sets 27-25, 25-18 and 25-21 to top the Fighting Illini for the first time in program history.
“After dropping that first set… we went into the locker room, talked about a few changes and came out here really fired up knowing our energy could really help us out,” junior outside hitter Jeme Obeime said.
The action swung back and forth between the two teams in the first stanza. Neither team held an advantage larger than two points until Illinois (4-6) pulled away at 21-18 and went on to take the set 25-19. But Duke head coach Jolene Nagel said that the score did not reflect her squad's play during the set.
“[We] really played well in set one," Nagel said. “It was neck and neck the whole way until the end. We just made a few too many mistakes.”
Illinois recorded five blocks in the first set, but the Blue Devils (9-2) were able to open up their offense in the second set, holding the Fighting Illini to just five blocks in the final three stanzas. Duke relied heavily on sophomore middle blocker Elizabeth Campbell, who recorded a game-high 23 kills and posted a .650 hitting percentage in the final two sets of the match.
“We just kept going to what was working. [Campbell] was having a great game," Obeime said. “We kept feeding her knowing she could put the ball down when we needed it.”
The second set played out in a similar back-and-forth fashion as the first, but this time the Blue Devils found themselves on the right end of the scoreline. Duke trailed 19-16 until a crucial timeout called by Nagel broke up Illinois' momentum.
Duke seized control coming out of the timeout, mounting a comeback to take a 23-22 lead. The Fighting Illini went on to win two consecutive points and were a point away from taking a commanding two-set lead, but the Blue Devils rallied and took the stanza 27-25.
“After game two, we… refocused. We talked about specifically what we wanted to focus on," senior libero Ali McCurdy said. “We went back out there with the same game plan we’d started from the beginning, made a few adjustments, but really wanted to get the control back on our side.”
Duke trailed for the first half of the third stanza until senior middle blocker Chelesa Cook came up with two huge blocks giving the Blue Devils the lead at 16-15. Two consecutive blocks from Obeime helped Duke close out the set and secure a 25-18 victory.
The Blue Devils never looked back from there, taking the fourth set 25-21 to seal the upset.
Following a victory against Indiana Friday night, Duke takes this winning weekend in stride as it moves into ACC play next weekend. The Blue Devils have won 15 of their last 17 sets to close non-conference play, and they are currently on a five-match winning streak.
Although her team continues to string together wins, Nagel said she is certain that the team’s work is not done.
“I’m really proud of this group and how they have worked together to get to this point right now," Nagel said. “I think the neat thing about it is they’ve been coming into practice everyday and trying to get better. We need to continue with that mentality, and to really work to get better each day. The ACC is tough.”