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Women glad to be home after road trips

After three weeks of road conference matches, the Blue Devils return to their home court this weekend to take on two ACC opponents.

At 3:00 p.m. today, No. 3 Duke (17-2, 6-0 ACC) will face off against the team atop the conference standings, No. 7 Miami (16-1, 7-0), at Ambler Tennis Stadium. Sunday the Blue Devils will play host to another Sunshine State opponent, Florida State (11-6, 4-3).

Head coach Jamie Ashworth said that the Blue Devils’ home-court advantage will prove crucial against two dangerous ACC foes. Duke has been on the road for its last five matches, visiting three different states.

“The biggest thing is the travel part of it, just to not have to do that and to have an extra day of rest and preparation,” Ashworth said. “We can be as fresh as we have been in a long time.”

The five wins that came from the recent road trips have solidified Duke as a top ACC contender, but the Blue Devils are still acclimating to a revamped doubles lineup, and today’s opponent Miami reigns at the top of the ACC standings as one of three teams still unbeaten in conference play.

Although today’s play will be pivotal in deciding the regular-season conference championship, the Blue Devils remain more focused on the match itself than on its potential consequences.

“To me it is just another match,” Ashworth said. “We just want to keep building and we are only looking at that.”

Miami extended its winning streak to 14 Wednesday with a 5-2 win over Fresno State, but will be looking to get back on track in doubles after dropping the doubles point to the Bulldogs. No. 18 Anna Bartenstein, the Hurricanes’ No. 1 singles player, also suffered an upset at the hands of Fresno State’s Marianne Jodoin, and while Duke will take an extra day of rest playing at home, Miami will have a quick turnaround after playing just two days ago in Coral Gables.

Regardless of the outcome today, Ashworth stresses that the team will need to be ready to play with energy Sunday, when the Seminoles visit Durham.

Although the Seminoles have remained out of the top 25 since February, Ashworth said that he believes them to be better than their current ranking. Riding a five-match win streak, they have climbed nine spots in the ITA rankings, from No. 40 to No. 31. Duke, on the other hand, remains in the top five for the 23rd straight poll, the longest such streak in the country. Nonetheless, the Blue Devils, who have struggled with Florida State in the past, cannot rely on their ranking alone to prevail on Sunday.

Last season, the Seminoles ruined what would have been a perfect conference record for Duke, defeating the Blue Devils in their final ACC match. The upset trend did not stop there, however, as Florida State went on to beat Duke in the semifinal round of the ACC tournament just weeks later.

“They are one of the teams in the ACC where the emotion is very high,” Ashworth said. “Talent-wise, they may not be as good as us, but that emotion carries them over the threshold.”

With the dual goals of moving closer to a conference title and avenging last season’s losses, Duke will need every minute of extra rest that it can get without the need for lengthy travel.

“We have to play with passion and also some urgency,” Ashworth said. “We have to be prepared to play and not overlook anything.”

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