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Blue Devils seek to spike Heels

The volleyball team is in an unusual position as it rigorously prepares for its non-conference game this weekend—because the non-conference game is eight miles down the road in Chapel Hill.

Because of the recent ACC expansion, Duke and North Carolina were only slated to play once during the regular season. Friday night’s matchup was scheduled independently of the ACC, and although it will count toward the Carlyle Cup—an all-sport competition between the two schools—the outcome will not factor into ACC standings. Neither team will take this matchup lightly, however, and the atmosphere will be intense as always.

“They get great crowds over in Carmichael [Auditorium], and I don’t expect anything different on a Friday night,” head coach Jolene Nagel said. “We’re playing because it’s a great rivalry. It will be a great match for both teams.”

The Blue Devils and Tar Heels have squared off at least twice a year ever since the Duke volleyball program started in 1971. UNC leads the all-time series 45-41 and has dominated Duke in recent history. The Blue Devils have not beaten the Tar Heels since Nov. 7, 1999.

In the Blue Devils’ ACC opener this season, UNC snapped Duke’s nine-match winning streak with a victory at Cameron Indoor Stadium. After taking the first game and leading 10-5 in the second, the Blue Devils lost control of the contest as the Tar Heels exploited unforced errors and pounded Duke’s porous defense for three straight games to take the match.

The standings indicate that the two teams will be evenly matched going into Friday night’s contest. The Tar Heels (12-11, 7-4 in the ACC) have a slightly better conference record, but the Blue Devils (15-7, 6-5) hold the edge overall.

“We are going to treat it like a conference game and play to win,” senior Stephanie Istvan said. “If we win this match, it will help us gain momentum for the rest of the season.”

Coming off of a difficult weekend in which Duke lost 3-0 to Virginia and 3-1 to Maryland, Nagel and the coaching staff have tried to get their team back on track by watching extensive video of themselves and focusing on defense in practice.

“You can’t dwell on [the losses] during the week or they will carry over into the weekend,” Istvan said. “We have to come out hard. We’ve talked about it and put it behind us.”

Nagel said she anticipates UNC will come out with its usual aggressive play and “scrappy” defense. The Tar Heels’ strength lies in outside hitters Dani Nyenhius and Molly Pyles, who keep the ball in play and put pressure on the opposing defense. Earlier in the season, Nyenhius and Pyles combined for 36 kills against Duke.

The Blue Devils return to Cameron Indoor Stadium Saturday at 7 p.m. for their first and only 2004 matchup against an N.C. State (10-14, 0-10) squad that has yet to win a conference match.

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