For senior Sue Carls and the Blue Devils, this weekend's matches against Virginia and Virginia Tech were about sending a message that the Blue Devils are serious contenders in the ACC.
After two victories in which they played well and rallied from behind to win, the message came through loud and clear.
Over the weekend, Duke (15-6, 6-3 in the ACC) beat Virginia (12-9, 4-5) 3-2 and then-ACC leader Virginia Tech (16-4, 7-2) 3-1, its strongest conference competition to date, in matches that tested the team not only physically, but emotionally, as well.
"We wanted to show the rest of the conference that we aren't just a middle-of-the-road team, but rather, we are a legitimate contender this year and a team to be aware of," Carls said. "We did a really good job this weekend of being efficient because we were down a lot against both teams at the end of most games, but still managed to win, and that was really honorable. We really held tough as a team and fought hard for every point."
Carls, who recorded 20 kills for the first time in her four-year career against the Cavaliers and added nine more in the match against the Hokies, was excited to take advantage of her leadership position on the floor and inspire her team to multiple victories.
Head coach Jolene Nagel said this past weekend's success to Carls and her fellow upperclassmen's abilities to lead on the court and execute plays.
"The upperclassmen really understood the significance of these matches, and that was apparent in their play," Nagel said. "We did the best we could do, and everyone felt the urgency and understood the importance of [the] victories this weekend, and I really attribute that to our older players."
Duke was forced to hustle to come from behind against Virginia Friday-the team pulled out a 3-2 thriller after a tight fifth set-and then overcome an overwhelming environment of hostile Virginia Tech fans Saturday.
For Nagel, though, the biggest challenge was reminding her team to keep up its focus and intensity. Nonetheless, the Blue Devils also needed to be relaxed enough execute, an especially important skill in the 3-1 win over the Hokies and their raucous fans.
"I think that it is important for us to be playing consistently and to really play our game every time we step out on the court," Carls said. "It's a conference this year where everyone is beating everyone else, and as long as we play the game like we know we can, I think we are really going to surprise some people and have a lot of success, which is pretty awesome."
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