Reynolds Coliseum has not been a friendly place to play for Duke during the past few years. The Blue Devils traveled to Raleigh Sunday eyeing their 11th straight win and their first victory at N.C. State since 2010, but the Wolfpack had other ideas.
Duke won the first set 25-22, but the Wolfpack responded by winning the next three, 25-15, 25-21 and 25-21 to hand the Blue Devils their first conference defeat of the season.
“We weren’t on top of our game all day,” Duke head coach Jolene Nagel said. “I don’t think we looked past them. We know they’re an aggressive team and a scrappy team.”
Although Duke (14-3, 5-1 in the ACC) won a hard-fought first set, Nagel said the team was unable to find a rhythm, and as a result could not generate any momentum heading into the second set.
That second set proved to be Duke’s undoing as errors helped N.C. State (14-4, 5-1) build a commanding lead to even the match at one set apiece. The Blue Devils had 10 attack errors in the set, compared to just nine kills, on 31 attempts.
“We made way too many errors in the second set,” Nagel said. “[In addition], we were not stopping their attack. We didn’t block as well as we did Friday night [in a three-set victory at previously unbeaten North Carolina] and our defense wasn’t as good as it needed to be.”
The miscue-filled second set gave N.C. State momentum heading into the third frame, and although Duke minimized its mistakes—three attack errors and 12 kills— the Wolfpack attack was just as potent. N.C. State recorded 18 kills in the third set.
Junior Dariyan Hopper found lots of open space in the Duke defense, putting down a match-high 18 kills to lead the Wolfpack, but got plenty of help from her teammates. Senior Meredith Richardson and junior Nikki Glass each recorded 11 kills, and senior Brie Merriwether added 10.
“Usually defense is a strength of ours, but we were a little off today,” Nagel said. “You’re going to have nights like this, but you’ve still got to figure out a way to win.”
Duke battled back in the fourth set, but the Wolfpack attack proved too much to overcome. Sophomore Emily Sklar led the way again for the Blue Devils, notching 17 kills to extend her streak of matches with double-digit kills to nine. Junior Jeme Obeime added 13 kills, and sophomore Elizabeth Campbell followed up a nine-kill, 10-dig performance against North Carolina with 10 kills and 10 digs against the Wolfpack.
Nagel said that the team will use Duke’s fall break to rest and recover, but will also look to video from Sunday’s loss to tweak some things. The Blue Devils will look to start a fresh winning streak with another road trip next weekend, as they travel to Georgia Tech Friday night before facing off with Clemson Sunday afternoon.
“We’re going to learn a lot from this, and we’ll be better because of it,” Nagel said. “But it’s no fun having to experience it.”