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Duke volleyball looks for 2-0 ACC start against Virginia

<p>Two days after posting 23 kills against Wake Forest, Emily Sklar will lead the Blue Devils into their second ACC contest of the season Friday against Virginia.</p>

Two days after posting 23 kills against Wake Forest, Emily Sklar will lead the Blue Devils into their second ACC contest of the season Friday against Virginia.

Just 12 hours after defeating Wake Forest Wednesday night, the Blue Devils gathered back in Cameron Indoor Stadium for an 8 a.m. practice to prepare for their next opponent.

Duke will take on Virginia at 6:30 p.m. Friday evening looking to salvage a 3-3 record during its first homestand of the season. After spending the first few days of the week preparing for the Demon Deacons and dispatching them in straight sets, the Blue Devils had only Thursday’s practice to master Friday’s game plan.

“This morning we were able to do a couple of things at practice specifically for Virginia, but we didn’t have a long practice because we competed last night,” Duke head coach Jolene Nagel said.

The Cavaliers (8-3, 0-0 in the ACC) come into Durham on a hot streak after three straight victories to win the American Classic title in Washington last weekend. Virginia junior Lexi Riccolo will be a cause for concern for the Blue Devils (6-5, 1-0) with her defensive ability. Riccolo picked up MVP honors at the American Classic, gathering 47 total digs en route to the championship.

But the return of veterans like Riccolo means this Cavalier team is similar to those that Duke has matched up against in previous years. In 2014, the Blue Devils  swept past Virginia in both of the teams' meetings, winning all six sets.

“They have a lot of the same players returning, which is good for us,” senior Emily Sklar said. “We know what we’re up against, but at the same time we don’t want to overlook them. They give us a good game every year. We need to keep a really aggressive attitude and keep up our defense and blocking.”

The Cavaliers have added one key piece to the puzzle this season in freshman Anna Walsh, a middle hitter who was an Under Armour First Team All-American as a high school senior. Walsh was named ACC Co-Freshman of the Week after a successful weekend that saw her accumulate 11 blocks and a .474 hitting percentage.

The Blue Devils have a strong history of recent success against Virginia—the last time Duke fell to the Cavaliers was back in 2005. But not every match has been as lopsided as the previous two iterations. In 2011, the Blue Devils and Cavaliers went to 5 sets before Duke could sneak out a victory.

“I only remember the times that we have played Virginia when it’s been five-set matches,” Nagel said. “Because I do know that they’ve recruited well and they’re very well-coached, I look forward to it being a strong match."

As the Blue Devils begin ACC play, they put a grueling nonconference schedule behind them. Duke’s schedule has already featured tough opponents such as then-No. 20 Michigan and then-No. 3 Stanford.

Sklar said she believes that the tough opening slate has prepared the squad for ACC success.

“I think it really prepared us both mentally and physically,” Sklar said. “A lot of those teams, especially Michigan and Michigan State in the Big Ten and then Stanford in the Pac-12, forced us to compete and do a lot of things that we aren’t used to.”

The Blue Devils will start focusing more on communication beginning Friday, an area that she said is one of Sklar’s strengths. The San Jose, Calif., native racked up 23 kills in Duke's conference-opening win against Wake Forest Wednesday, but has added another dimension to her game this season that does not show up in the box score.

“She is just helping with our communication out there on the court and our teamwork that is involved with it,” Nagel said. “She leads that sort of thing for us so we can become a better team. She has put her efforts into that and I think that’s been very beneficial for her as well as the team.”


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