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Two-piece set

Sitting on a bench after practice, players Carrie DeMange and Ali Hausfeld laugh and exchange nervous smiles.

After the two led Archbishop Alter High School, a school with no previous volleyball tradition, to back-to-back state titles, they have transitioned seamlessly to college volleyball. DeMange leads the team in kills and earned an ACC Player of the Week award, while Hausfeld has paced the team in assists and posted Duke’s only triple-double of the season to date.

For these burgeoning superstars, there seemed to be little they could not do together.

But after practice last week, they ran into a question neither one could answer when asked, “What’s something interesting you two did together in high school?”

“There’s a good story but it’s not like...” said Hausfeld as her voice trailed off and another teammate egged her on. “Can we come back to that one?”

Answering a reporter’s questions has been the only area where DeMange and Hausfeld have proven to be immature. On the court the two, both among Volleyball Magazine’s top 50 freshmen, have helped lead Duke to an 11-3 start.

Middle blocker DeMange is unquestionably more spectacular on the court. At 6-foot-2, she has a defensive presence and a ferocious finish. Most players use an overhand motion to spike, but DeMange’s arm seems to windmill around from her side, creating the velocity powering her to 4.98 kills per game, fourth-best in the ACC.

“First let’s talk about Carrie’s weaknesses—she has none,” Hausfeld said when asked about DeMange’s best on-court attributes. “Her strengths would be hitting and blocking and passing and playing defense and serving. She’s all right.”

Ironically, it’s Hausfeld whom many would describe as the more complete player. The setter, who was a two-year team captain at her Cincinnati, Ohio high school, ranks third in the ACC in assists and sixth in hitting percentage. Hausfeld’s triple-double against North Carolina Sept. 21 is more evidence of her versatility. Archbishop Alter head coach Tina Jasinowski simply calls her “the package.”

“She’s actually like a hitter too, hitting the second ball over,” DeMange said. “She tries to trick the other team; she’s really good at that.... Sometimes they’ll jump with her and I’ll be wide open with no block because of that.”

In addition to their individual talent, Hausfeld and DeMange have developed strong chemistry from playing together since third grade. Jasinowski likened their awareness of each other on the court to a “sixth sense.”

“Timing’s a really big issue in the middle with the setters,” DeMange said. “I know how she sets, and I can tell where she’s going to set me or if she’s going to set me. I know when to be up and when not to be. It’s really good, the communication and everything. If I was with a different setter I’m sure I’d get used to it, but it wouldn’t be the same.”

The familiarity between the two girls on and off the court has helped all four freshmen volleyball players become closer than they had expected.

“At first we didn’t know our way around Duke, so we all became really close, the four of us freshmen. Them two knowing each other has been cool because their knowing each other has made all of us freshmen feel like we’re one,” said libero Jenny Shull, who rounds out the freshman class along with outside hitter Shelly Capito. “Having them connect as freshmen on the court just makes our team stronger because it makes us all work harder on the court to connect as one unit.”

Despite their status as high-profile recruits, the freshmen have been able to seamlessly blend into the team, said Duke head coach Jolene Nagel. Jasinowski is not surprised by their easy integration.

“Even though they got a lot of attention from everybody [in high school] they are both the most humble athletes,” Jasinowski said. “They were both just regular high school volleyball players, which says a lot about their character. They were personable, mature and responsible right from the time they were [high school] freshmen.”

Although the girls are alike in several aspects, they are far from identical. DeMange is a flamboyant player and a quiet person, and Hausfeld makes up for her understated game with her outgoing personality and vocal leadership.

While playing together in college did not figure into either player’s decision to come to Duke, DeMange might not have visited Duke without Hausfeld’s encouragement.

“Ali told me she was going on a visit when we came to UNC basketball camp,” DeMange said. “So I went with her to visit here and I loved it.... I came back a few more times before I decided if I wanted to go here or not.”

Nagel said she recruited the players separately, paying less attention to their similar backgrounds and focusing on each girl’s individual interests.

“We actually thought it might be a negative,” Nagel said about whether DeMange and Hausfeld’s bond helped Duke to land them both. “But they were our favorites so we put it out there to them and we are the lucky beneficiaries.”

The Blue Devils’ benefit, if DeMange and Hausfeld have their way, might take a mid-range program to another level. Hausfeld does not pause when asked what she hopes to have accomplished four years from now.

“National championship,” the three-time All-State selection said. “I think we can do it.”

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