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Duke faces ACC’s best

The Blue Devils have lost just twice away from Cameron, and beat Georgia Tech and Clemson away on their last conference trip.
The Blue Devils have lost just twice away from Cameron, and beat Georgia Tech and Clemson away on their last conference trip.

Playing on the road can be tough. When the road stretches from Wisconsin, to Massachusetts to Georgia to Maryland and back to the Carolinas, it can be even tougher.

After six full weekends playing away from home, Duke (21-4, 11-2 in the ACC) knows what playing outside the comforts of Cameron Indoor Stadium is like, and that experience will be tested as the team gears up for two away matches coming up against critical league opponents, No. 16 Florida State (21-2, 12-1) and Miami (14-9, 7-6).

Sophomore outside hitter Sophia Dunworth acknowledged the challanges of playing away from home.

“Cameron is such a fun atmosphere,” Dunworth said. “It makes it easier to focus our own side and [on] being the aggressors because there is a lot of pride in playing in Cameron. When you are in some else’s gym there is an opportunity to become timid because you are surrounding by someone else’s fans but I know we can overcome that this weekend.”

Duke has shown the ability to overcome hostile road crowds already this season: The Blue Devils have lost just twice away from Cameron, and beat Georgia Tech and Clemson away on their last conference trip.

Head coach Jolene Nagel attributes that success to a unique mental toughness that is at its peak at this point in the season.

“It’s going to be another big weekend on the road for us,” Nagel said. “I think we are getting better at being tough as a team even if we’re away. Our skills and our communication are really good and that is really exciting. We can play better than we did last time against Florida State and Miami. I know we can show them our progress.”

Earlier this season against the Hurricanes, Duke pulled out a 3-0 victory after three close games. When the Blue Devils faced the Seminoles at home, the match was competitive until the end with Florida State coming out on top in the fifth game. The Seminoles are the only nationally ranked ACC team.

“It was a battle with Florida State last time we played them, and they just happened to come out on top,” Moss said. “In those situations we have to focus on not giving away the things we can control like the free balls they give us.”

New weapons and assets have revealed themselves for Duke since the last time it faced the Florida schools. Junior Becci Burling and freshman Chistiana Gray have effectively dominated the middle play in the conference. Florida State and Miami are two programs with a history of talent in the middle, and Duke’s countering duo will be critical this weekend.

Sophomore setter Kellie Catanach is excited about the new dynamic in the middle and expects it to work to Duke’s advantage this weekend.

 “We are a better team now then we were then,” Catanach said of the last time the Blue Devils faced Florida State. “Becci [Burling] and “T” [Christiana Gray] are going to be huge because they can beat their middles. We are faster than them and that’s going to be great for us.”

Nagel echoed the setter’s comments and stressed how integral the battle in the middle will be this weekend. While the team didn’t necessarily use its size as well as it could have last time it faced both teams, Nagel knows that her team has the experience to turn things around this weekend.

“[Miami is] scrappy and they fight hard all the time,” Nagel said. “Florida State is a solid all-around team that has a good offense like we do so blocking is going to be very important for us in both matches.”

The consistent play of Duke’s strong lineup, along with the added skills of the new presence in the middle, gives the Blue Devils all the tools they need to come back from the Sunshine State with two wins and lots of smiles. While Cameron Indoor Stadium may not travel well, Duke does, and an upset against the No. 1 team in the conference and a sweep in its contest with Miami could be in the team’s future.

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