The Blue Devils had a lot to be thankful for over Thanksgiving break.
After sweeping both Florida State Wednesday and Miami on Senior Night Friday to finish off their ACC season in Cameron Indoor Stadium, the No. 25 Blue Devils (28-3, 21-1 in the ACC) received their berth in the NCAA tournament on Selection Sunday.
Duke was placed in the Gainesville, Fla. regional bracket, which is headlined by top-seeded Nebraska.
With the ACC receiving just one bid for the first time since 1991, Duke advances to the postseason as the conference's only representative with the league's automatic bid. Meanwhile, the Pac-10, SEC and Big Ten all sent seven teams to the tournament.
The Blue Devils are set to play Tennessee (19-11) in the first round in Knoxville, Tenn. Friday night at 7 p.m. If Duke advances, it would face the winner of Jacksonville State and 16th-seeded San Diego in the second round.
"I'm really excited," head coach Jolene Nagel said. "I think it's a good situation. We don't have to travel that far. I know we can do well against Tennessee if we can play our game. They're a very, very good team, and we're going to have to play well. But once we get by that match, to have the 16th-seed instead of the No. 1 like we had last year, that's huge."
Last season, Duke received an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament but was knocked out in the second round to top-seeded and eventual national runner-up Nebraska. This year, the Blue Devils would not theoretically meet Nebraska until the third round of the tournament.
"It was about what I expected," Nagel said. "I would have liked to have not been in the bracket with Nebraska, but on the other hand, in order to be the best, you have to beat the best."
Returning a group of core experienced upperclassmen, Duke's maturity will give the team an advantage it did not have last year going into the postseason.
"We have a different frame of mind right now going into this NCAA tournament then we did a year ago," Nagel said. "That comes from experience and players going through it before.. It just gives you that mental edge, you just know what to expect now."
The bracket selections on Sunday wrapped up a successful Thanksgiving recess in which the Blue Devils also finished off Florida State and Miami in three games. The two final home wins helped Duke complete its second consecutive undefeated season in Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Blue Devil's 21 ACC wins also set a new league record for season victories in the conference.
The Blue Devils took care of business Wednesday, dominating the Seminoles (19-12, 13-9) in the three-game sweep. Ali Hausfeld notched a complete performance, ending the match with five kills, six digs and an ace to go along with her match-high 42 assists. Rachael Moss slammed home a team-high 11 kills, while Tealle Hunkus and Sue Carls added nine kills each.
The senior Blue Devils went out with a bang as Duke annihilated Miami (12-19, 9-13), 3-0, on Senior Night Friday. The trio of seniors-Polly Bendush, Tealle Hunkus and Pixie Levanas-fittingly stole the show as they led Duke to victory. Bendush finished the night with two service aces and seven digs, while Levanas earned three blocks, Hunkus snagged 12 digs, and both seniors slammed home 10 kills apiece in their last game in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
"Our seniors were leading us all the way, and that's really what they've been doing all year," Nagel said. "It was really special because the seniors have done a great job for our team, not only this year in their leadership, but in their work ethic, in the standards they set for themselves and the passion for the sport itself."
Nagel said the team, which has prepared well mentally for each match all season, will be ready for the challenge.
"Initially, we're trying to find out all we can about our opponents," Nagel said. "[We're going to] not try to change a whole lot and try to make sure we're well-rested and hungry as we go into Knoxville."
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