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Volleyball: Duke to take on nation's best

This season, the Blue Devils hope to bring respect and recognition to the ACC, a conference often underestimated by the rest of the country.

Although the ACC is known as a competitive sports conference in general, it doesn't get the national acknowledgement in volleyball that Duke and other ACC teams believe they deserve.

But with the addition of No. 1 Penn State to the Blue Devils' early schedule, as well as a strong returning team that put them at the top of the ACC preseason polls, they have an opportunity to gain respect for their conference.

"It's not that we aren't respected now, it's just that they're not looking for us to get to the Final Four, and that's what we are looking to do here at Duke," head coach Jolene Nagel said. "Our schedule allows us to develop our entire roster and play against the very best, and prepare us not only to really understand our team come ACC season, but also to give us a good feel of what we need to do to continue to be successful in the ACC and in the postseason, as well."

Penn State, the back-to-back national champions, is scheduled to play Duke Sept. 12, when it comes to Cameron Indoor Stadium to compete in the Duke Invitational. Nagel and Penn State head coach Russ Rose discussed the prospect of a match for years, and Rose agreed to bring the Nittany Lions to Durham in a match that will give the Blue Devils the challenge for which they have prepared all summer.

"The fact that they are the No. 1 team in the country wasn't something that I wanted to shy away from, and I don't think our team wants to shy away from at this point in our maturity, so we are excited," Nagel said. "It was a win-win for us to have great volleyball here at Duke, as well as to play a good opponent and know exactly where we stand."

Senior captain Rachael Moss echoed her coach's enthusiasm for the early test. For Moss, it's the matches against nationally ranked teams that bring a fiery intensity and committed focus in practice for the Blue Devils.

"I love the challenge of playing the teams that are top 10 in the country," Moss said. "Going out there and playing schools that are so big in the nation is a huge challenge, and I think that challenge pushes you in practice. It's a great goal to work towards."

Duke starts its season this Friday at the InnTower Invitational in Madison, Wis., where it will play Wisconsin, South Dakota and Ohio, and the Blue Devils plan to take advantage of the early games to grow as a team, junior Becci Burling said.

In the future, it could be their preseason growth that leads the Blue Devils to the Final Four and elevates the ACC on the national stage.

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