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Duke falls for the first time in eight matches

After sweeping through Delaware and N.C. Central to run its win streak to eight games, Duke ran into a wall in the form of No. 12 Minnesota.

In the opener of the Duke Invitational Tournament against the Blue Hens, the Blue Devils (8-2) looked sensational, cruising to a three-set sweep. Delaware (7-3) was never able to get going offensively against Duke, hitting only .135 on the night. Freshman libero Ali McCurdy played a huge role in stymieing the Blue Hens’ attack, matching her previous career-high of 22 digs by the end of the second set and finishing with 29 on the night, the most for a Blue Devil in three sets since the NCAA began its 25-point scoring format.

On Saturday morning, Duke continued its winning ways against N.C. Central (1-8) by dominating the Eagles in straight sets. For the match, the Blue Devils hit .268 while holding the clearly outmatched N.C. Central squad to negative .062—meaning that the Eagles had more errors than kills. Senior middle blocker Becci Burling led the team with 12 kills in the match, and junior middle blocker Amanda Robertson posted seven kills without an error before the Duke bench took over.

The tall, athletic Golden Gophers, however, were too much for Duke to handle Saturday night. Minnesota’s Tabi Love and Ashley Wittman, both of whom were named to the all-tournament team, put up 13 and 12 kills respectively in the match to lead the attack for the Golden Gophers in the 3-0 win.

“They were really aggressive, really efficient,” McCurdy said. “And that can be frustrating to the team at times—we’re getting balls up and keeping rallies alive, but they were just really sharp tonight.”

In contrast, head coach Jolene Nagel, who cited solid communication as one of the biggest factors in the Blue Devils’ success in their first two wins of the tournament, thought that communication—or lack thereof—hurt the team Saturday night.

Duke’s sloppy play was exacerbated by Minnesota’s outstanding defense, led by all-tournament libero Jessica Grandquist, which held the Blue Devils to a measly .044 hitting percentage. While the numbers don’t necessarily show it, Grandquist was greatly aided by Minnesota’s height up front, which featured a rotation of six players six feet or taller—including the 6-foot-6 Love.

“We thought they had some weaknesses but those weaknesses really weren’t there tonight,” said Nagel. “But they blocked us really well and they played great defense along the block too.”

What little success Duke was able to find didn’t come until late in the game.

The Blue Devils didn’t have a lead until they were up 3-2 in the third set, but by then it was too little too late. After swapping leads with Minnesota a couple of times, Duke extended its lead to 10-7, its largest of the match.

The Golden Gophers, however, called a timeout and retook a lead they would not relinquish with a 6-1 run.

“They came at us tonight,” Nagel said. “And we didn’t really fight back as much as we needed to tonight. But I have every belief in this team that we’re gonna get a lot better as a result of this challenging opponent tonight.”

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