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A very ACC expansion Thanksgiving

With Duke's schedule running through the holidays, senior Chelsea Cook said her mother will be particularly appreciative that the team is hosting their Thanksgiving meal this year.
With Duke's schedule running through the holidays, senior Chelsea Cook said her mother will be particularly appreciative that the team is hosting their Thanksgiving meal this year.

After the dust settled from last year’s conference realignment boom that left the ACC with 15 schools, the most asked questions were about how the new programs would affect the league’s football and basketball profiles.

But the addition of three more schools had an unexpected consequence for the Duke volleyball team: Because of the altered schedule, this year they have to spend Thanksgiving in Durham.

In recent years, the regular-season finale came on the Tuesday before Turkey Day. The Blue Devils would practice Wednesday morning and then fly home after that to spend Thanksgiving with their respective families before returning for the NCAA tournament selection show and practice that Sunday.

This year Duke plays Wednesday and Friday, so all of that is gone. But that doesn’t mean Thanksgiving is lost: The coaches, players and staff will celebrate together at the University Club in Durham along with team family members, who are coming to town from all across the country.

“I think it’s nice that we’ll have that early lunch and you still have the opportunity to hang out with your family individually that night,” senior Ali McCurdy said. “Different families come on different weekends, and it will be cool that the majority of people’s families are here for the first time altogether.”

Head coach Jolene Nagel said she thought the Thanksgiving respite was a nice treat in previous years because the team could be so worn down by the end of the season. The trip home would allow the players to prepare for finals, rest any injuries and relax with family and friends.

Now that Nagel is in charge of the festivities, she said there’s a “method to [her] madness” and scheduled the team feast for 1 p.m. so they have time to digest before Friday’s showdown with North Carolina. And before chowing down, they will practice to get ready for a game that has implications both in the ACC and for the NCAA tournament. Entering Wednesday at 16-2 in conference play, Duke will win the league title outright if it wins its final two games against N.C. State and North Carolina.

The Blue Devils also have a chance to host the first two rounds of the NCAA if their RPI is high enough. Sixteen teams get to host and the Duke currently ranks No. 18 in the latest RPI rankings, though wins against two teams ranked in the top-50 might be enough to give them that two-spot boost. That could determine if Friday’s Senior Night is the last time Chelsea Cook and McCurdy, the team’s only two seniors, play at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Nagel said she hopes there is a respectable turnout for Friday’s celebration for Cook and McCurdy, who are also the team’s two captains. Even if students won’t be around, she said local Durham fans can provide the support they deserve.

“We’re all hoping we can pull out some good wins and be ranked in the top 16 so we can play a few more in Cameron,” Cook said. “It’s kind of a bummer that a lot of the student population won’t be there Friday, but hopefully we’ll still be able to get a good crowd because it’s the Duke-UNC rivalry, and it’s a big game in the ACC as well.”

Thursday’s catered extravaganza may not have the touch of home that most people are used to, but McCurdy said her father may bring along a few pies to make sure there are some aspects of the traditional meal. McCurdy will also get to spend the holiday with her older brothers, who are coming to Durham to eat turkey and watch their sister further her ACC all-time digs record after they were unable to get to Durham so far this season.

Nagel said her husband usually takes care of the cooking for her and their two sons, and this year he’ll get a break from his usual duties while they spend the holiday with their “extended Duke volleyball family.”

Cook also said that having the meal away from home has a plus, at least for her mother.

“Mom gets a break from cooking, so I’m sure she’s happy about that,” Cook said.

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