Duke bounced back this weekend, registering two more wins after losing for the first time in 11 games last week.
In their first matches as a ranked team, the No. 24 Blue Devils swept Georgia Tech in three sets Friday with scores of 25-21, 25-21 and 25-20. After losing the first set 25-21 to Clemson Sunday, Duke came back to take the match and won three consecutive sets with scores of 25-14, 25-18 and 25-21. With their sixth and seventh ACC victories of the season, the Blue Devils have now surpassed their conference win total from all of last season.
"The ACC is a very competitive conference, and to go on the road and get two wins away is a tremendous weekend," head coach Jolene Nagel said. "We were very disappointed when we couldn't capitalize on our win against North Carolina [last Friday] against N.C. State [last Sunday]. I think that this will help [the team] regain confidence, and it's very encouraging heading into a new week."
Duke (16-3, 7-1 in the ACC) was able to gain the advantage against Georgia Tech with an efficient offensive effort, posting a hitting percentage of .228 to the Yellow Jacket’s .138. Senior captain Chelsea Cook posted six errorless kills in the first set.
With a game-high 16 digs against the Yellow Jackets, Blue Devil libero Ali McCurdy brought her career total to 2,208 digs, breaking the previous program record of 2,200 all-time digs set by Jenny Shull six years ago. The accomplishment also brings McCurdy up to the third spot on the ACC's all-time digs list.
“I wasn’t focusing on it coming into the match, but we knew I was close,” McCurdy said. “We hadn’t talked much about it before the match, but we went into Georgia Tech knowing it would be a tough environment. It was a great game [to beat the record in] and then also sweep Georgia Tech at their place the same night.”
Both victories were due largely to the Blue Devil’s coordinated offensive attack. Junior setter Maggie Deichmeister posted 35 assists against Georgia Tech (7-13, 1-7) and another 27 against Clemson (10-9, 4-4). Sophomore outside hitter Emily Sklar led the Georgia Tech match with 10 kills, and in the Clemson match Sklar’s 16 kills were second only to Mo Simmons' 18 for the Tigers.
Simmons leads the ACC with 4. 63 average kills per set, while Sklar comes in second with an average of 3.96 kills per set. Sunday’s game marked the 11th consecutive game in which Sklar had posted 10 or more kills.
“This week we talked a lot about preparing to go up against [Simmons],” Sklar said. “She’s still a great hitter, and she still got a lot of kills [today], but I think we did a great job of containing her.”
After Duke was able to gain the advantage off of Clemson errors for a 2-0 start in the first set, the Tigers went on an 8-1 run to put them in the lead. Although the Blue Devils were able to come back and tie the set at 15-15, the team was ultimately unable to reign in the dynamic offensive efforts of Simmons and Beta Dumancic, who posted eight and seven kills in the opening set, respectively.
“We started out slow [Sunday],” Nagel said. “It took us some time to communicate better and understand the importance of it, and once that started we were able to string along some points and get into a better rhythm. But that didn’t start until late in the first set, and then it was too late to help us there.”
But Clemson proved to have peaked early, and after tallying 17 kills in the first set, the Tigers were only able to register 28 more in the final three sets of the matchup. In addition, Duke’s defense was able to limit the Tigers to a dismal .091 hitting percentage in the second, third and fourth sets combined.
Nagel said two conference wins were worth the price of a punishing weekend road trip. Since the Clemson game was pushed back from to Sunday due to the fanfare around Saturday's Clemson-Florida State football game, the Blue Devils were on the road for three full days from Thursday to Sunday night.
“Clemson and Georgia Tech are always really solid teams,” Nagel said. “These trips are never easy. It feels really good to come back home with two wins.”
The Blue Devils will take on two more ACC opponents next at home, No. 19 Florida State on Friday and Miami on Saturday.