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Duke rallies for weekend split with ACC foes

After losing its ACC season opener at Clemson, 3-1, Friday, Duke regrouped the following night to beat Georgia Tech, 3-1, in Atlanta's O'Keefe Gymnasium, where the Yellow Jackets had not lost a conference game since 2002.

The Blue Devils (7-3, 1-1 in the ACC) lost the first game of the Georgia Tech match-their fourth straight, including the three straight games they dropped to finish the match at Clemson-before rallying to top the Yellow Jackets (4-6, 1-1).

"We need to understand that in the ACC, if we don't bring our 'A' game, we won't win," Duke head coach Jolene Nagel said. "Friday night, we didn't play badly, but we made some easy errors-like on our service-at crucial times in the match, which set us back. We learned a tough lesson right out of the door."

Duke's difficulties were amplified by hostile road environments and a strenuous travel schedule that allowed them only one practice between the two matches.

"Both of the matches had great crowds. We couldn't hear each other and communication was hard," Nagel said. "In many ways, the environment forced us to play even better in order to win."

In practice Saturday, the team focused on its ball control and service, two areas in which the team had fallen short of expectations against Clemson (7-3, 2-0), Nagel said. Beginning in game two of Saturday's match in Atlanta, Duke began to show signs that its practice was paying off.

Facing a 29-27 deficit in the second game against the Yellow Jackets, Duke strung together an attack that began with a kill by middle blocker Carrie DeMange and ended with a service ace by libero Jenny Shull to take the game, 32-30.

"It was amazing and fun to watch the game end with Jenny's ace after we had been struggling to convert service opportunities," Nagel said. "Being able to come back the way we did and win that game was pretty amazing. Momentum can change so quickly. Suddenly, the game was going our way."

Following the comeback finish in the second game, Duke, led by the play of outside hitters Pixie Levanas and Tealle Hunkus, took both the third and fourth games, each by the score of 30-26.

"Our outside hitters did a tremendous job and our middles have been tremendous all year," Nagel said. "But Levanas and Hunkus were a consistent and aggressive force Saturday night that allowed us to win."

DeMange, who received her second consecutive ACC Volleyball Player of the Week award last week, recorded her seventh and eighth double-doubles of the season in the weekend's two matches. The sophomore notched 16 kills and 13 digs against Georgia Tech; while setter Ali Hausfeld had her fourth double-double of the season against the Yellow Jackets, with 50 assists and 10 digs.

"I continue to learn about our team every weekend," Nagel said. "The thing about this team that I'm the most excited about is that we've got some toughness about us and most of the time, that comes through. We come back against a lot of very good teams and that speaks to our character."

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