In Monday’s American Volleyball Coach’s Association poll, Duke was unranked but received 68 votes. When the next poll is released Oct. 14, the Blue Devils might find themselves in the top 25.
In a showdown of two of the ACC’s three teams without a conference loss, Duke swept past No. 10 North Carolina 3-0 Friday night to stretch its win streak to 10 games. The Blue Devils rolled in straight sets at Carmichael Arena, defeating the Tar Heels 25-22, 25-22 and 25-19.
Sophomore Emily Sklar tallied 11 kills to lead the Blue Devils, while junior Jeme Obeime recorded 10 and sophomore Elizabeth Campbell added nine to go with 11 digs.
The victory was a statement win for the Blue Devils, handing the Tar Heels their first loss of the season and snapping their 29-match home winning streak, which dated back to October 2011. North Carolina had yet to drop a set in conference play far entering Friday.
“The team played with a lot of composure amid a lot of hoopla, with more than 5,300 people there and a lot of Carolina students,” Duke head coach Jolene Nagel said. “They executed well, they took advantage of opportunities, and it was total team effort.”
The Blue Devils (14-2, 5-0 in the ACC) were down 14-11 in the first set, but scored five consecutive points to take a 16-14 lead. North Carolina (15-1, 4-1) would tie the score at 18-18. Unphased, Duke rebounded to finish the set. Back-to-back kills by Sklar extended a slim Blue Devil for 23-20 lead.
Unforced errors allowed the Tar Heels to stick around, but Nagel’s squad killed all hopes of a North Carolina rally when Sklar and senior Chelsea Cook combined to stuff the Tar Heel attack at the net, capping a 25-22 first set victory.
The second set was another back-and-forth affair, with each team stopping the opponent’s run with a scoring streak of their own. The Blue Devils held a slim 15-14 advantage, utilizing the block to win critical points throughout a sequence of long rallies. Cook then made it 16-14 with a soft shot that fell between multiple defenders, and Campbell followed with an ace. The momentum quickly vanished, as North Carolina roared back to tie the score with three straight points.
“We talked about it before the game,” Nagel said. “It’s going to come down to who makes the fewest errors and who wants it the most.”
Just as in the first set, Duke rebounded to stifle the Tar Heel comeback bid. A pair of kills and a North Carolina hitting error upped the lead back to 20-17, prompting a Tar Heel timeout. Freshman Jordan Tucker and Obeime combined for a block that gave Duke a 23-19 edge, and a kill by Obeime brought the score to set point. The set ended when Tucker won a battle with Tar Heel middle blocker Victoria McPherson at the net to hand Duke a commanding two-set advantage.
North Carolina hung around in the third set as well, but the Blue Devils finished the job. Following a Duke timeout, the Blue Devils recorded two straight points to make the lead 22-18, then tallied a third on a Campbell block after North Carolina used a timeout to try to stop the bleeding. Obeime tacked on another kill, and Duke won the match when North Carolina hit the ball out of bounds.
Early in the season, Duke struggled to minimize errors, but Friday it was the Tar Heels who fell victim to uncharacteristic mistakes. North Carolina committed 28 errors, including 12 in the final set, while Duke committed just 14 errors all night. North Carolina’s leading hitter, graduate student Jovana Bjelica, had 10 kills but committed seven hitting errors.
Duke’s defense was crucial all match long. Led by senior libero Ali McCurdy’s 14 digs, the Blue Devils forced the Tar Heels into just a .093 hitting clip, well below their season average. Duke also managed 14 team blocks, a season-high, which Nagel credited with forcing many Tar Heel errors.
Passing Friday’s test was just part one of a difficult weekend slate for the Blue Devils – the team travels to near-by Raleigh Sunday to face N.C. State (13-4, 4-1), which swept Wake Forest Friday night. But Nagel said the team took a big step forward with the win in Chapel Hill.
“It’s [North] Carolina, they’re number 10 in the country, they’re undefeated and they’re playing Duke,” Nagel said. “That’s a lot of buildup, and I’m so happy with the way our team communicated and executed.”