At the halfway point of the ACC schedule, the Blue Devils hold a tiebreaker for first place in the conference and continue to rise in the polls.
Duke (18-3, 9-1 in the ACC) was ranked 18th in Monday’s American Volleyball Coaches Association poll, climbing five spots after defeating Florida State and Miami last weekend. The Blue Devils will look to go undefeated on their four-game homestand as it concludes this weekend, hosting Syracuse Friday at 6:30 p.m. before facing off against Boston College Saturday at 6:30.
“We’ve had very good leadership in [senior libero] Ali McCurdy and [senior middle blocker] Chelsea Cook, in terms of helping our team understand the magnitude of each match,” Duke head coach Jolene Nagel said. “Our goal is to approach each match one at a time.”
The Orange (10-12, 5-5) received a rude initial welcome to ACC volleyball, dropping its first four conference tilts. But Syracuse has righted the ship of late, and comes into Durham Friday night riding a four-match winning streak of its own.
Friday will be the first meeting between the two programs as ACC foes, and just the third matchup in school history. The Blue Devils won both prior contests, the most recent victory coming all the way back in 1993.
Before Nagel came to Duke in 1999, she was the head coach at Georgetown and faced the Orange regularly in Big East play. But Syracuse has changed coaches during Nagel’s 15 seasons in Durham, and seven of its 12 players hail from outside the U.S., which means Blue Devil players and coaches didn’t run into many of them on the club circuit or the recruiting process. Duke will therefore enter Friday’s match relying on what they can glean from video footage of the Orange.
“They are unfamiliar to us, and that’s something we have to take seriously,” Nagel said. “Their kids are crafty, they know how to use the block well, and that makes them dangerous.”
For the Blue Devils to be successful against the international style of play, Nagel said disciplined blocking and solid serve receive will be crucial. Silvi Uattara and Nicolette Serratore lead Syracuse’s offensive attack with 266 kills and 228 kills on the year, respectively.
The Orange have been vulnerable to good hitting this season—Syracuse ranks last in the ACC in opponent’s hitting percentage at .250—which could provide some openings for Duke’s talented trio of hitters in junior Jeme Obeime and sophomores Emily Sklar and Elizabeth Campbell.
The ACC has not been kind to Boston College (8-14, 0-10) this season. The Eagles rank last in the conference in hitting percentage at .203 and blocks per set at 1.93, and seven of Boston College’s conference losses have come in straight sets. But a bright spot for the Eagles is sophomore outside hitter Katty Workman, who is among the league leaders in kills.
“She gets set a ton of balls, and she can hit in the front and the back,” Nagel said. “[She’s] definitely someone I think we need to contain, but it’s not just one player that beats you.”
With a pair of wins this weekend, the Blue Devils would move to 10 games over .500 in the ACC, and would avenge last season’s home loss to the Eagles in the process. But Nagel emphasized that the team can’t get caught looking at the standings or thinking about games down the line.
“We have ten more matches, and we’re capable of doing well,” Nagel said. “But we know we have to focus on the task at hand. Any team [in the ACC] is good enough to beat you on any given night.”