Sophomore Jordan Tucker will try to get the Blue Devils off to a hot start this weekend at the annual Duke Invitational.
Sophomore Jordan Tucker will try to get the Blue Devils off to a hot start this weekend at the annual Duke Invitational.

With the start of the 2014 season nearly underway, Duke is more than ready to take the court and prove last season was anything but a fluke.

The Blue Devils will host North Florida at noon and High Point at 7 p.m. Friday at Cameron Indoor Stadium as they kick off their season with the Duke Invitational. Duke's primary focus in its first two matches will be evaluating this new squad’s strengths and weaknesses and continuing to compete at the same high level of play that earned them the ACC title last year.

“I look forward to it being a good learning experience for all of us this weekend,” head coach Jolene Nagel said. “The team is really excited to see how we look against someone other than ourselves.”

The addition of four new freshmen has already shifted the dynamics of the team in the right direction, according to sophomore outside hitter Jordan Tucker. This weekend presents the Blue Devils with a crucial opportunity to challenge themselves and learn how each player will respond in match situations and how the team will respond to its experience on the court.

The Blue Devils will close out the weekend against Furman Saturday at 3 p.m. But the squad is more concerned with how it will perform as a unit, and less with the team on the opposite side of the net.

“This weekend is going to be a good opportunity to see how we do in competition,” Nagel said. “Hopefully we’ll see how we work together, respond and get a really good idea about where we are right now.”

Duke will also get a chance to help acclimate the freshmen to the pace of the game at the college level, which will become more familiar to them as the season goes on but is currently the number one task facing the rookies.

“They’re a lot of fun to work with and a lot of fun to coach,” Nagel said. “From what I can tell so far, they are great volleyball players and great teammates and they are learning every single day they are out there on the court.”

With the last several weeks consisting of numerous Blue-White scrimmages, the Blue Devils are excited to finally establish themselves as a unit and face someone aside from their own teammates. Although improvement has been a constant theme for the squad—which lost standouts Ali McCurdy, Chelsea Cook and Elizabeth Campbell in the offseason—the high level of competition will provide Duke the perfect opportunity to come together and defend its home court.

“They are coming here to beat Duke,” Nagel said of the other teams in the tournament. “We’re going to have to be on our toes and play our best.”