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Key league match looms for Duke

The volleyball team will host Virginia Tech in what appears to be its most crucial game to date Sunday at 1 p.m.

A win would allow the Blue Devils (14-5, 5-3 in the ACC) to leapfrog the third-place Hokies (10-8, 4-2) in the conference standings and enable Duke to pick up much needed momentum after last week’s back-to-back losses to Clemson and Georgia Tech. The task ahead is daunting.

“We have videotape, of course, but it’s not the same as seeing them in person,” head coach Jolene Nagel said. “They’ve done very well so far in the ACC, and we are really focused on this match. They haven’t played as many matches in the ACC as we have, but this match will be really big because we’re both so close to each other in the standings.”

The Blue Devils are currently in fourth place in the ACC after a strong start. Sporting an explosive offense that currently ranks third in the ACC in hitting percentage, Nagel’s squad racked up 13 victories in a 14-game stretch that included triumphs against Maryland and Virginia, who both beat Duke multiple times last season. The streak came to a halt, however, when a mediocre Clemson squad upset the Blue Devils 3-1 and league-leader Georgia Tech easily dispatched Duke 3-0.

“I think that every match in the ACC is very, very competitive, and if you don’t play your absolute best, then that makes all the difference in the world,” Nagel said. “You have to bring your ‘A’ game every single night, or you come up short. That’s what happened to us against Clemson—we didn’t play badly, we just could have played better.”

Nagel’s squad rebounded from the two losses in dramatic style by defeating last-place Wake Forest 3-1 Tuesday. The Blue Devils vastly improved their offense against the Demon Deacons. After recording .224 and .175 hitting percentages in its previous two contests, Duke attacked at a .299 clip in Winston-Salem.

Nagel is counting on her team to continue its aggressive play and exploit Virginia Tech’s weak defense, which ranks last in the conference in blocks.

“We tried to up our intensity against Wake Forest, and also in practice this week,” Nagel said. “That made all the difference.... I think we were very aggressive and just made things happen by playing solid defense and playing the ball.”

Not only was Duke’s offense very efficient against Wake Forest, but also it was extremely well-balanced—five different players posted double-digit kills. An offense that was once solely reliant on All-ACC candidate Carrie DeMange, whose 4.35 kills per game ranks fifth in the ACC, now boasts several scoring threats. In the past five games, senior Tassy Rufai and sophomore Tealle Hunkus have both posted double-digit kills in every contest.

“Obviously [the freshmen] are doing a great job, they’re complementing the upperclassmen very well,” Nagel said. “I think we’re continuing to get better as a team.”

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