A start to a new season brought good experience and tough challenges for the Blue Devils, as they took two of three matches at the InnTower Invitational.
The event brought together Wisconsin, South Dakota, Ohio and Duke in a two-day tournament in Madison, Wisc. Duke started off strong Friday night with a 3-2 win against the host Badgers and some impressive play from their more experienced players. Junior middle blocker Becci Burling lead the team with a career-high 11 blocks while senior Rachael Moss and sophomore Sophia Dunworth each had 16 kills against Wisconsin.
The Blue Devils then defeated South Dakota before falling to Ohio in the tournament finale. Sophmore setter Kellie Catanach and Moss made the all-tournament team.
"It was a great weekend for us," head coach Jolene Nagel said. "Playing in the Big 10 in Madison was a wonderful experience for our team. To be able to pull out a strong win our first match of the season while we're figuring out our identity was tremendous. Our team came through and held in mentally and chugged away to make things happen."
After a strong performance against the Badgers, the Blue Devils played South Dakota in a match that gave the freshman some quality playing time and Nagel the opportunity to see her new recruits in action.
In a 3-0 win, freshman Megan Hendrickson hammered down 12 kills and finished with a .375 hitting percentage-an impressive statistic in just her second collegiate match.
"I was really proud of the team and how we did in all the matches," Moss said. "The freshman really stepped up and fit in really well with the chemistry of the team. It was very competitive and we worked really well together and that was great to see."
"Against South Dakota, we maintained our level throughout the match," Nagel said. "We were able to get a lot of freshman in and I was excited that the entire team could get experience to help grow. Sometimes you change one person and everything goes away but not this weekend-we were making changes without a lapse."
Finishing off the tournament with a match that the Blue Devils knew would be a challenge, Duke fell to Ohio, 3-0. The Bobcats, an experienced team that returned virtually ever starter from last season, came out aggressively against the Blue Devils and stayed on the attack throughout the entire match. Although Nagel saw moments of intensity from her team, she said Duke needs to stay forceful more consistently if it is going to be successful against other top competitors.
Looking forward to its next match, Duke travels to Georgia Sept. 4 to compete in the Georgia Dawgs Invitational with the host Bulldogs, South Alabama and Tennessee State. Moss and the Blue Devils are anxious for yet another opportunity to test their play in an out-of-conference setting.
"We can see ourselves peaking pretty soon," Moss said. "We can only go forward from here. We are getting better each day in practice. The vibe was very positive this weekend and any mistakes we made we can't wait to try and fix."
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