Duke head coach Jolene Nagel has lofty goals for her Blue Devils this year: winning a second consecutive ACC championship, making the Final Four and going undefeated at home.
Off to a strong start with three wins in the Duke Invitational against North Florida, High Point and Furman, Duke faces Campbell Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Following a victorious weekend, the No. 21 Blue Devils (3-0) had a short but productive practice Monday to prepare for a busy week ahead of them. Duke hosts the Fighting Camels (3-0) Tuesday before hitting the road for a five-game road trip that begins Friday.
With the addition of four freshmen to the squad, the team has been experimenting with different combinations to determine which will be most beneficial for Duke's ACC debut. Outside hitter Cadie Bates had the best statistical weekend of the quartet, posting 11 total kills in three matches.
“We’re still working through some things right now and I think that will be a sort of process through these early competitions,” Nagel said. “I am very pleased with the freshmen and how they came in and competed. Everybody is really blending together as a team.”
Offensively, the Blue Devils will look to senior Jeme Obeime and sophomore Jordan Tucker, who contributed 49 and 28 kills, respectively, during the weekend tournament. Obeime and sophomores Sasha Karelov and Alyse Whitaker were all named to the all-tournament team. Karelov, a sophomore libero tasked with filling the large shoes left by ACC all-time digs leader Ali McCurdy, recorded 42 digs spread over the two days of competition, and Whitaker chipped in with a team-high 13 blocks.
Nagel opted to give 2013 ACC Player of the Year Emily Sklar an extra day of rest, sitting the junior out of Friday's doubleheader. The San Jose, Calif. native made her season debut Saturday against Furman and immediately made an impact, tallying 13 kills on 26 attempts. Sklar also recorded 12 digs to collect her first double-double of the season after notching 10 double-doubles last season.
In practice, Duke has been looking inward, honing in on the little things that will allow the Blue Devils to reach their full potential.
“We’re still focused on ourselves and trying to take care of the ball and do what we’re capable of doing,” Nagel said. “We really need to focus on the day-to-day to get us where we need to be as a team."
Duke has never lost to the Fighting Camels in six previous encounters, winning every match in straight sets, and will carry an 18-match regular-season home winning streak into Tuesday's contest.
However, this season Campbell poses a threat. Like Duke, the Fighting Camels also emerged as champions of a tournament played in Durham last weekend, claiming the N.C. Central Tournament title. Campbell dropped the host Eagles and Wofford in straight sets before taking down Valparaiso in a five-set thriller to take home the hardware.
The Fighting Camels will look to junior libero Mary Crema to lead the team after she was named the N.C. Central Tournament MVP. Duke will also need to pay attention to Jessica Groen, the Campbell's best hitter. The redshirt senior accumulated an impressive 317 kills and 28 aces in 2013.
With their long-term sights set on repeating as ACC champions, the Blue Devils plan to take things one step at a time and concentrate on the journey.
“The thing that we’ve got to really do is be focused on the process goals and the performance goals in matches that are going to get us there,” Nagel said.