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Volleyball team earns tournament berth

With resounding sweeps of Virginia and Virginia Tech on the road Thursday and Friday, the Blue Devils return to Durham with much more than just those two wins under their belt.

Duke clinched the ACC league title for the first time since 1994 with the victory over second-place Virginia last Thursday.

The Blue Devils (26-3, 19-1 in the ACC) have also earned an important perk that goes along with the honor of the conference title-the ACC's automatic bid into the NCAA tournament.

"We're very, very excited to have been able to clinch that," head coach Jolene Nagel said. "It was exciting to be able to win that match on the second-place's home court and win it in three.

"One team for sure gets [the automatic bid] in the ACC. There might be more teams that get it at-large, but we don't wait to have to hear about that on selection Sunday-we know we're in. "

Duke has made solid title runs in recent years, but Nagel has fallen short of securing her first elusive ACC championship at the helm of the Blue Devils until now. Duke won the regular season in 2001 under Nagel's leadership but lost in the postseason tournament.

The postseason tournament, however, no longer exists. Last year, the ACC moved to a 22-game double round-robin schedule instead of a postseason tournament to determine the conference champion. The Blue Devils again saw the ACC title slip just out of their grasp last season as Duke finished one-win shy of a three-way tie for first place with Maryland and North Carolina

This year, though, the Blue Devils have unquestionably lived up to their pre-season billing as the conference's title pick. Duke's closest competition-second-place Virginia-sports five conference losses compared to Duke's one, while Maryland and North Carolina, fittingly, have lost 16 and 12, respectively.

"This is just such a wonderful accomplishment with as many teams as there are in the league and for us to have the season that we're having," Nagel said. "It's just a real tribute, not only to these players right now in the program, but the players that have come before them."

Duke started off last Thursday's match against Virginia (22-7, 15-5) strong with a win in game one. The Blue Devils secured a hard-fought 33-31 victory in the second game to take a 2-0 lead in the match and carried the momentum over into game three-where Duke finished off the Cavaliers, 30-23, for the sweep.

Friday night at Virginia Tech (16-13, 10-10), the Hokies jumped out to a 20-13 lead in game one, but the Blue Devils powered back with an 11-1 run to take control en route to a 30-28 victory. Duke finished off Virginia Tech with 30-23 and 30-22 victories in the final two games to seal the match victory.

The Blue Devils finish off their ACC slate against Florida State and Miami Nov. 22 and 24, respectively.

Having lost last year in the NCAA's second round to No. 1 Nebraska, Duke's veterans, in particular, know the advantage of earning the best possible seed in the post-season.

"Right now they realize the significance of us being able to finish strong so the NCAA committee will look on us favorably when they make their selection and make their placements for the tournament," Nagel said. "We're mature enough now to understand the significance of it, and I think we're going to be able to maintain that focus going through these last two matches."


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