Duke faces uphill battle to repeat in 2010

Junior Ellah Nze is confident that Duke can succeed, and even repeat,  this season without 2009 NCAA individual champion Mallory Cecil.
Junior Ellah Nze is confident that Duke can succeed, and even repeat, this season without 2009 NCAA individual champion Mallory Cecil.

Coming off the best season in school history and an NCAA championship, the Blue Devils will look to avoid complacency this season. Duke is the preseason No. 1 team in the country and has four players ranked in the top 100 in the nation.

Despite the high praise, the Blue Devils (1-0) remain humble and focused on the upcoming season. Like most NCAA defending champs, they realize it is very difficult to repeat, but repeating is still very much part of their plans.

“We are really excited about this year, but we are going to take it one match at a time,” senior Amanda Granson said. “Every year’s a new year and what we did last year was great, but we’re looking to the future. We are trying to repeat but also keep things in perspective.”

Duke faces many obstacles in the upcoming season, the most obvious of which is replacing former freshman phenom Mallory Cecil, who recently turned pro after winning the NCAA singles title in May. This season’s Blue Devils are tasked with not only replacing her performances on the court, but her desire and leadership off the court as well.

“Mal was definitely a big loss, not only the matches she won, but the intensity she brought to practice every day,” head coach Jamie Ashworth said. “I talk to people now from last year’s team and they say that Mal was one of the best leaders we had. ”

Junior Ella Nze was a bit more optimistic in her outlook for the season. 

“Losing Mallory was hard but at the same time, it’s a team. Mallory was very good at number one, but that’s one match and it takes four to win,” Nze said. “I think that we have a good team. All the upperclassmen are going to step up this spring.”

The upcoming schedule poses many challenges for Duke, starting with the nonconference slate. The Blue Devils play both No. 2 Northwestern and No. 6 Notre Dame, two perennial contenders for national honors. Within the conference, the schedule gets even tougher. It is very feasible that the majority of the ACC could end up in the NCAA tournament in May.

“The ACC is now the toughest conference in the country,” Ashworth said. “Five years ago it wasn’t that way. We could have 10 teams out of the 64 that make the tournament be from the ACC.”

Even though the Blue Devils have many hurdles to overcome this season, freshmen Mary Clayton and Jessica Stiles, as well as sophomore transfer Monica Gorny bring in a very diverse skill set that will be a great asset to the team moving forward.

“Mary has had a lot of experience in national tournaments and international tournaments,” Ashworth said. “Jessica doesn’t have as much experience but will definitely be a help to our doubles.... It’s rare that you get a girl that likes to come to the net and has good volleys. She fits that role, and we need that on our team.

After emphatically defeating Memphis 7-0 in the season opener, the Blue Devils resume play against Old Dominion (1-0) today at 6 p.m. in Sheffield Indoor Tennis Center. 


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