The reigning ACC champions begin the 2014 season with head coach Jolene Nagel in her 16th year at the helm. The 2013 ACC and American Volleyball Coaches Association All-East Coast Region Coach of the Year has led the Blue Devils to 11 NCAA Tournament appearances in the past 13 years, establishing Duke as one of the premier volleyball programs on the East Coast.
Not only is Nagel the Blue Devils’ most successful volleyball coach on record, but she is also building a legacy for her team that extends beyond accomplishments on the court and into the Durham community.
“Our coach puts an emphasis on academics, social lives and helping the community,” junior right-side hitter and setter Christina Vucich said. “It’s not all volleyball here so it’s a really well-rounded program.”
Duke athletes are no strangers to this focus on community involvement, with athletes on many teams participating in programs such as Read With the Blue Devils and Swim With the Blue Devils and visiting the Duke Children’s Hospital and Ronald McDonald House.
In May, the annual ACC Top Six for Service Award was given to six individual student-athletes at each of the conference’s institutions, recognizing outstanding community service and engagement. Duke’s recipients included Sean Davis of men’s soccer, Angel Thompson of women’s lacrosse, Elizabeth Williams of women’s basketball and football’s Dave Harding and Cody Robinson. The sixth recipient: Nagel’s entire squad.
“We had no clue we were even going to get it,” Nagel said. “Oftentimes individual student-athletes get it, and we’ve had one of those get it a few years ago. But this was the first time a team got it. And they really did it [as a team].”
In recent years Nagel and her Blue Devils have been involved in an impressive number of service projects and fundraisers, but their connection to a local recovery program has taken center stage.
The connection between the volleyball team and TROSA—Triangle Residential Options for Substance Abusers—was established, appropriately, because of sports. Nagel’s children played alongside TROSA President and CEO Kevin McDonald’s children, giving Nagel an opportunity to learn more about the organization run by a fellow parent in the stands.
TROSA’s two-year program offers more than sobriety; for more than 400 residents, it provides vocational training, education, counseling, leadership training and support for the transition from the program to the community after graduation.
McDonald invited Nagel to tour the facilities, and she was amazed by the program.
“Once you go down there and take a tour, you see how it all works and how impactful it is on people’s lives and families’ lives,” Nagel said. “It’s just unbelievable. Then it was just a matter of us trying to get involved to help.”
Nagel saw Duke’s opportunity when she visited TROSA’s gym. She immediately noticed there wasn’t any volleyball equipment.
The Blue Devils donated the necessary equipment and clothing collected at a promotional night in 2012. And since the visit to the facility, they have been putting on volleyball clinics for the many residents eager to show their skills. The players lead groups through drills to practice serves, sets and other techniques, even offering one-on-one coaching.
At the end of the clinic, the residents come together for a scrimmage. The Duke athletes stand on the sidelines. The game is competitive but supportive, as both observing family members and competitors applaud earned points, good saves and teamwork.
The bond between the residents and the Blue Devils extends beyond the two-hour volleyball clinic held at the facility.
“I think it’s really special because they do a lot of work for Duke,” Vucich said. “This morning, I was walking to practice and there were TROSA moving people, and they said, ‘Hey, we enjoyed your clinic, can’t wait to come see the games.’ So they really recognize us and remember us, and they’re some of our biggest fans.”
Duke invites the TROSA residents to its home matches, and they fill the stands on game night as enthusiastic supporters. Sitting in the same spot at each game they attend, they are some of the Blue Devils' most dedicated fans.
Nagel has developed such a strong bond with the TROSA program that she was invited to give the keynote address at the residents’ annual graduation in 2013.
As the season gets under way, it becomes more difficult for Nagel and her squad to continue to do work in the community, but they are able to use their game schedule to organize fundraisers and events to raise awareness for breast cancer and multiple sclerosis.
For the Clemson match Oct. 24, Duke will host its annual Dig Pink event, with the Blue Devils donning their pink uniforms and holding a silent auction for the Side-Out Foundation. The foundation seeks to make a difference in the lives of breast cancer patients and their families by supporting clinical trials, increasing patient support services and educating communities.
In 2007, Duke launched its Pennies for Points campaign, an initiative that collects donations through a silent auction for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. This season’s Pennies for Points auction will be held Nov. 16 at the home match against Notre Dame.
Duke also puts on clinics for young girls in the community, most recently for a middle school in Wilmington earlier this month. The Blue Devils spend time explaining the techniques that come easily to them after so many years of practice and develop relationships with the kids they coach. The kids they work with often come back to home games and Duke’s volleyball summer camp. The Blue Devils' next clinic for young girls will be held Saturday at 1 p.m. at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Community service has become such an integral part of Nagel’s program and the team’s culture that the players did not realize how much they had done in the past year to garner recognition for the ACC Top Six for Service Award. Receiving the honor was a complete surprise.
“We had no clue we were even going to get it,” Nagel said. “The kids, when they got recognized, they were like, ‘What?’ They are putting in a lot of extra time. It’s great for our kids to reach out, and I think they are wonderful role models.”