Depth is a good problem to have. By that logic, Duke has a big problem with its offensive attack.
Outside hitter Emily Sklar turned in a career-best 22 kills to help the No. 21 Blue Devils hit their way past Campbell in four sets Tuesday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The junior also added 10 digs to pick up her second double-double in as many matches, and had plenty of help from her teammates to power the Duke attack.
"At the beginning of the season one of our goals that we made was to just take a lot of risks," Sklar said. "If it's not a perfect set, still going 100 percent for it instead of taking easy shots.... I thought tonight was a good night to do that, and I guess it paid off."
Sophomores Alyse Whitaker and Jordan Tucker joined Sklar in double-figures with 12 kills and 10 kills, respectively, and outsider hitters Jeme Obeime and Breanna Atkinson combined for 14 more to pace Duke (4-0). The Blue Devils have now won 19 consecutive regular-season matches at home dating back to the 2012 season.
"It was a good test for us. We're getting to see different personnel out on the court and that's always good to see in a competitive setting," head coach Jolene Nagel said. "We made some errors and made some things difficult for ourselves. And they made some great plays. I think I want to see us respond to those a little bit differently than we are doing right now, in a more relaxed, together manner. We'll talk about that and try to work for that for the future."
Duke breezed past the Fighting Camels (3-1) in the first set, leading wire to wire, but stumbled out of the gates in the second, falling into a quick 3-0 hole. The Blue Devils were able to battle back and briefly took a 15-13 lead following back-to-back kills by Sklar and Tucker. But Campbell responded by rattling off four straight points to reclaim the lead for good, evening the match at a set apiece with a 25-23 win.
The sloppy set was one to forget for the Blue Devils, who committed eight of their 22 errors on the night during the second stanza. Sklar chalked up the sluggish sequence to getting accustomed to new teammates in new roles. The antidote: improved communication and aggressiveness.
"We have a bunch of new people who are going in and playing and trying some new stuff out, so we're trying to be more consistent no matter who's out there on the court and having a loud presence out there and not just being passive," Sklar said. "It's about people wanting to be out there and getting super fired up."
The third set more closely paralleled the opening frame, as the Blue Devils jumped out to a 10-4 edge that quickly morphed into a 23-11 advantage, thanks to the handiwork of Obeime and Sklar. Duke's multi-headed monster of an attack ultimately overwhelmed the Fighting Camels to claim the third set, 25-14
"Jeme and Bri are awesome—they really go for it," Sklar said. "Some of their kills, I'm glad I'm on their side and not on the other team."
Tucker dominated the opening of the fourth set, recording three kills to stake the Blue Devils to a 5-1 lead, feasting on errant Campbell passes that floated over the net in prime attacking position for the middle blocker.
But as was the case in the second frame, a series of miscues allowed the Fighting Camels to stick around. Behind six fourth-set kills from redshirt sophomore Alexis Hein, Campbell clawed back from a 10-1 hole to close the gap to 24-22, but were ultimately unable to get over the hump.
"That's the issue for volleyball, there's always that kind of momentum change," Nagel said. "It's a very precious thing when you have that momentum, but it can change so quickly. It certainly did for us, and Campbell made some great plays and we missed some plays. I would like to see us just play each point up to the best of our capability and not let those runs take place."
Sophomore Sasha Karelov anchored the Blue Devil defense, registering a career-high 35 digs and helping limit the Fighting Camels to a dismal .116 hitting percentage. Filling into the slot that was held for four years by ACC all-time digs leader Ali McCurdy, Karelov has adapted well to the starting job, according to Nagel.
"When we recruited Sasha, we always knew she had the capabilities to be really good as a libero," Nagel said. "This past year, January on, she really developed herself, not only her skills and her strength and conditioning, but she also has developed herself to have more presence out there on the court. I think she's doing a great job and we're really excited about it, and her serve is great too."
The Blue Devils will leave the friendly confines of Cameron Indoor Stadium for a five-game road trip that begins Friday at Michigan.