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Blue Devils try to rebound from UNC defeat

ACC volleyball teams never get an opportunity to take a game off. After losing to North Carolina Tuesday, the Blue Devils (9-3) will play two tough conference opponents this weekend at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Defending ACC Tournament champion Maryland (5-5) has a date with the Blue Devils at 7 p.m. Friday, and Virginia (10-2) plays Duke Sunday at 1 p.m.

Both opponents are talented and experienced and each has gotten hot at the start of the ACC season. Maryland is riding a four-game winning streak, and Virginia has taken nine of its last 10 games.

“Every team in the ACC is so competitive and so strong that if you don’t come to play you won’t get out successfully with a [win],” head coach Jolene Nagel said. “These are two very, very big matches for us.”

Coming off the four-game loss to the Tar Heels, Nagel and her players said consistency and focus will determine Duke’s success this weekend. Nagel added that the Blue Devils need to play with the same intensity they displayed while winning the opening game against UNC.

“It’s going to be really important for us to be mentally tough against Maryland. They’re a very tough team, and we really need to bounce back from our loss,” said freshman setter Ali Hausfeld, whose triple-double against UNC was Duke’s first of the season. “It’s going to be important for us to have a lot of confidence going into that game.”

The Blue Devils will use their lackluster performance against the Tar Heels as motivation.

“Everyone went home after the game and realized we didn’t show up after game one,” outside hitter Tassy Rufai said. “We watched video of ourselves and got real disgusted and realized we never wanted to look or feel like that after a game.”

The deep and talented Terrapins, picked to finish second in the ACC in the preseason coaches’ poll, return 11 players from last year’s team. They are lead by setter Aimee Huddleston and middle blocker Rachel Wagener, both preseason All-ACC selections. The team’s .500 record is deceptive, as three of its losses were to teams currently ranked in the top 20.

“They’re a strong team and have a lot of weapons,” Nagel said. “You can’t just stop one and not be aware of all the others.”

Maryland’s strength is on the front line, which features three seniors in addition to the 6-foot-4 Wagener. The Terps’ swing blocking technique is different from the defensive strategies Duke usually sees and could hinder the Duke attack.

The Blue Devils’ second opponent, Virginia, is a younger team, but it still returns four starters from last year. Preseason All-ACC selection Alexis Geocaris anchors the front line with 1.22 blocks per game and setter Emily Kirkwood leads the defense with 4.92 digs per game.

“They’re a very aggressive team that plays great defense,” Nagel said.

For all their success and talent, neither Maryland nor Virginia has won a road game this season—both are 0-2 in away games. Duke, meanwhile, has a 4-1 record at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Despite the loss to UNC and the prospect of playing such skilled opposition, the team enters the weekend with confidence.

“We’re definitely talented enough,” Hausfeld said. “We have enough talent to be one of the top teams in the ACC, and I know we can beat both teams. We just need to bring our top game.”

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