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Duke tries to power past UNC

 

It’s hard to imagine a better position for the volleyball team as it heads into ACC play—head coach Jolene Nagel is coming off of her 100th career win at Duke and the team has won nine consecutive matches. After a slow start, the talented freshmen are meshing with an established core and the pieces seem to be falling into place at the right time for the Blue Devils (9-2), who host North Carolina (5-6) tonight at 7 p.m. in Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Boosting the team’s already high spirits, freshman Carrie DeMange was named ACC Volleyball Player of the Week for her strong showings in the College of Charleston Tournament and in the team’s win over Elon. DeMange is the Blue Devils’ leader with 147 kills and four solo blocks and 27 block assists.

“We have a lot of very young players this year, and are quite a different looking team [for our opponents],” said Nagel of a team that has been powered by freshmen.

But while the freshman standout earned the week’s top award, the team’s core of seniors all put forth solid performances over the weekend. Seniors Tassy Rufai and Stephanie Istvan each added 10 digs on the defensive side, and fellow senior Erin Noble tabbed a career-high three blocks in the final match of the tournament. Istvan and DeMange earned all-tournament team selections.

“We have a lot of returning players this year, and they are working well with the [freshmen],” Nagel said. “We’ve gelled well.”

Inconsistent play has hampered the Blue Devils in recent years with pronounced peaks and valleys in the teams’ performances. Nagel said one of the keys to success this year has been balanced and aggressive play.

The consistency has paid dividends for Duke, which has not dropped a game in its last nine matches. On the other hand, North Carolina has dropped its last two matches, but UNC has faced stronger opponents than Duke this year. The Tar Heels have also beaten No. 20 Loyola Marymount, which defeated Duke earlier this season.

“North Carolina has been playing tough competition, so their record is not indicative of their [level of play],” Nagel said. “I think it is yet to be determined who is better on the court.”

Matching the Blue Devils, the Tar Heels have equally accomplished top performers and veterans. Senior Molly Pyles leads the team in kills with 153, almost a quarter of the team’s total. Pyles was named to the all-tournament team over the weekend in the GlaxoSmithKline UNC Volleyball Classic. Also on offense the Tar Heels have another powerful attacker in Dani Nyenhuis, who has 121 kills on the season.

Although the match will be the first Duke-North Carolina competition counting towards the Carlyle Cup—the all-sport competition between the rival schools—the Blue Devils are looking at North Carolina as just another opponent at the start of their ACC portion of the season.

“If we continue to play each point as a team and grow as a team, everything will fall into place,” Nagel said.

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