Coming into Friday night’s game, the volleyball team was riding high after a pair of conference victories and a rise into a second-place tie in the ACC. Duke’s next two opponents, Virginia and Maryland, were teams that the Blue Devils had already beaten at home this season. The outlook was optimistic heading into the season’s home stretch.
But the Blue Devils learned the hard way this weekend, that expectations can fall just as soon as they can rise. Duke (15-7, 5-6 in the ACC) lost to both Virginia (14-7, 4-5) and Maryland (10-10, 5-5) in a weekend performance letdown for the previously hot Blue Devils.
“I am disappointed, no doubt about that,” head coach Jolene Nagel said. “The season is a journey, and we just have to realize we can learn from this and get better.”
Against Maryland, sophomore Pixie Levanas tallied a career-high 15 kills and classmate Tealle Hunkus chipped in with 16 of her own. But it was not enough to power the team to victory. Maryland pulled out a 3-1 win over the Blue Devils Saturday night in College Park.
“[Hunkus] carried a big load for us and has been getting more consistent with every game,” Nagel said. “We really struggled getting our block up though on defense, which prevented us from making digs, and that really set us back.”
After splitting the first two games, the Terrapins eked out a victory in the third, capped off by a kill from Maryland’s Sarah Treadwell, who finished with a match-high 18 kills. Maryland rode its momentum into the fourth game, in which a comeback led by Duke’s standout freshman Carrie DeMange and Hunkus fell short.
“We had a lot of young players contributing this weekend, and I was pleased with that,” Nagel said.
Fewer than 24 hours earlier the Blue Devils fell to Virginia in somewhat more convincing fashion, losing the match 3-0 Friday night in Charlottesville. Duke was led by Hunkus, who racked up 21 kills, and on defense by Stephanie Istvan, who picked up 31 digs.
Nagel attributed much of the team’s problems to its weak serving. “We had a lot more errors and much fewer aces this weekend, and we’re not used to that being a problem,” she said.
The first game remained close much of the way, but in the end Duke could not match Virginia’s hitting power and the Cavaliers pulled away at the end of the game. In the second, the Blue Devils could not muster any serious attacks despite several good individual performances on defense. The third game reflected the same pattern as the first, with back-and-forth play throughout and Virginia overpowering Duke at the end to claim the match victory.
In addition to weak serving, defense caused many of the team’s problems this weekend, especially concerning the block.
The energy was usually in favor of Duke’s opponents in both games this weekend. The weak block prevented the Blue Devils from keeping points going and attacking their opponents, who already had the momentum behind them because of special attendance promotions at both game sites this weekend.
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“We knew this would be a difficult weekend—it is anytime you go on the road in the ACC,” Nagel said. “This weekend will make us better in the long run. Anytime you have losses like this, you notice things you can learn from and improve in the long run.”
The Blue Devils now have nearly a week to get their game back on track as they return to action this Friday night against North Carolina in Chapel Hill at 7 p.m.