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Close loss ends dominant season

While a heartbreaking 3-2 loss to San Diego ended the Blue Devils run in the NCAA tournament last Saturday, the defeat is by no means indicative of Duke's overall success in the 2006 season.

The No. 22 Blue Devils (29-4) wrapped up their season in the second round of the NCAA tournament with a year that yielded the team's first ACC title since 1994 and first under the leadership of head coach Jolene Nagel, who was named ACC Coach of the Year.

"I just couldn't be more proud of the team," Nagel said. "This team has really made a mark for itself and really set a great standard for future teams to follow and live up to. The individuals that were part of this team always kept the team first."

For the second year in a row, the Blue Devils started off the season picked as the top contender for the ACC championship. Unlike last season, however, when Duke finished one win shy of a three-way tie for first place, the Blue Devils left little doubt about the validity of their projected top spot in the league this year.

Duke dominated the ACC-posting a 21-1 conference record-en route to the league title, which earned the Blue Devils the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Duke was also the only ACC team make the tournament.

Duke took down Tennessee Dec. 1 in the first round with a resounding 3-1 victory in Knoxville, but fell to sixteenth-seeded San Diego in the second round in a match that was decided by a 15-12 nail-biter fifth game.

Nagel said that the Blue Devils maturity and consistent high level of play were integral parts of the team's success this year. Duke's experience allowed the Blue Devils to have a mental edge that was not present last season.

"It takes some maturity mentally to get to that point to be able to understand the significance of being ready night in and night out to bring your 'A' game," Nagel said. "We had gone through some difficult losses in the past that our older kids could look back on.. This year, they didn't miss a beat as far as being prepared mentally."

From the start, Duke adopted a team-first attitude that set the tone for the season. Nagel said the Blue Devils stressed the importance of every member of the team, resulting in a tight-knit squad whose chemistry was a significant catalyst in Duke's success.

"It was a successful season in a variety of ways because of the people that were involved," Nagel said. "They were all an integral part of this team. If we played well, that was a team effort. It was an "all us" mentality that we had."

Several Blue Devils ended the season with major contributions. Junior Carrie DeMange finished as team kill leader with 459, while freshman Rachael Moss ended her Duke debut second on the team with 374. Setter Ali Hausfeld set up the offense with 1,480 assists. Libero Jenny Shull anchored the defense with 604 digs, while at the net Jourdan Norman finished with 132 blocks.

Hausfeld and Moss were also named ACC Player of the Year and ACC Rookie of the Year, respectively.

Despite outstanding statistics from individuals, Nagel said that the players focused on the team as a whole which was one of its biggest strengths.

"It was a very special group that we had," Nagel said. "Their sacrifices and selflessness and then also their high expectations of themselves were some of the reasons we were able to be so successful."


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