Fittingly, it was senior Erin Noble who punctuated the Duke win with an untouched kill on the final point Tuesday night.
Her kill ended an easy but inconsistent match for the Blue Devils (18-9, 9-6 in the ACC), who blanked Wake Forest 3-0 on Senior Night, as the team played its last home game of the season.
“We said one of the best ways we could thank the seniors for all they’ve done is going out there and playing like we’re capable and picking up a win,” head coach Jolene Nagel said.
During the first game, which the Blue Devils dominated, senior Stephanie Istvan made it into the school record books for most digs in a season. With her team-high 31 Tuesday, Istvan has accumulated 559 digs this year, eclipsing Ashley Wacholder’s 1994 record of 531.
“It’s nice to leave my name in the record books, but it’s really just whatever I need to do to win,” Istvan said. “It’s nice to go out with a win in Cameron.”
Duke came out strong against the Demon Deacons (11-15, 3-12). The Blue Devils ran off the first five points of the match and benefited from five Wake Forest service errors to win the first game.
Sloppy play, characterized by erratic hitting and shoddy ball control, hindered the Blue Devils after that. Duke fell behind by small margins during the second and third games. Two big hits from freshman Carrie DeMange and sophomore Tealle Hunkus provided the necessary separation for Duke late in the second game.
“We were not at our usual energy level out there,” Nagel said. “We need to find that energy by Friday night, though.”
Hunkus, who led the team with 18 kills but struggled during the second game and parts of the third, exemplified Duke’s up and down performance. With the score tied at 27 in the third, though, Hunkus stepped up with two screaming hits down the line that the Wake Forest defense failed to return.
Senior Tassy Rufai closed out her home career with a strong performance, tallying 15 kills and 12 digs. Freshman Ali Hausfeld led the team’s passing attack with 50 assists.
Despite a few impressive individual performances on offense and defense, the Blue Devils often lacked their usual precision. Wake Forest was able to softly tap the ball between confused Duke defenders on a number of occasions during the match.
Nagel said that the team will need to work on being more disciplined and paying more attention to its ball control before its crucial match Friday at Virginia Tech.
“This is big, and Friday night’s will be even bigger,” Nagel said. “We need them both.”
With the victory, Duke edged away from a crowded pack of teams vying for the fourth seed in the ACC Tournament. The Blue Devils currently sit alone in fourth and will finish that way with a win Friday.
“I think we’re peaking at the right time,” Istvan said. “We’ve played the last five games very aggressively, and that’s where we need to be going into the tournament.”
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