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Comeback falls just short for Duke volleyball against No. 18 Florida State

<p>Junior middle blocker Jordan Tukcer slammed home a team-high 24 kills as Duke attempted to climb out of an 0-3 hole, but Florida State outlasted the Blue Devils in five sets Friday.</p>

Junior middle blocker Jordan Tukcer slammed home a team-high 24 kills as Duke attempted to climb out of an 0-3 hole, but Florida State outlasted the Blue Devils in five sets Friday.

After falling behind two sets to none, things looked bleak for the Blue Devils. But Duke fought back to force a fifth and decisive set, only to come up just short against the visiting Seminoles. 

Duke stomached another difficult loss against No.18 Florida State in a five-set marathon (25-22, 25-22, 20-25, 21-25, 15-12) Friday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Four Blue Devils finished with double-digit kills—including a career-best 24 from junior middle blocker Jordan Tucker—and redshirt senior setter Maggie Deichmeister dished out 68 assists, but the Seminoles managed to secure the last few points in the fifth set to escape with the win, denying Duke its first victory against a ranked team this season.

"I'm really proud of what I saw out there tonight, with the effort, and the focus and the defense, and just so many areas of our game. I thought our team really executed really well," Duke head coach Jolene Nagel said. "This is a heartbreaker, for sure. I want our team to feel down as a result of this. But at the same time, I hope they can also see the good things they did in this match to allow us to be where we were in set five against a really, really good team."

The teams alternated points for the majority of the first two sets, but Florida State (12-4, 5-0 in the ACC) seemed to have a bit more in the tank, taking each set by identical three-point margins. For much of the night, the Seminole offense was a one-woman show—senior outside hitter Nicole Walch racked up a career-best 31 kills on a .375 hitting percentage to go along with 27 digs. No other Florida State player had more than nine kills.

On the verge of being swept, the Blue Devils returned to the court for the last stand in the third set, and middle blockers Leah Meyer and Jordan Tucker decided to take charge. The duo finished the game with combined 40 kills, more than half of Duke's total.

"Being down [by] two sets, you have no option but to just go for it on all ends of the court," Deichmeister said. "From the back row, the front row—everything."

After hitting just .143 in the second set, Duke (7-8, 2-3) bounced back In the third, attacking the Seminoles with an efficient .312 percentage. Seven of Tucker's career-high 24 kills came in the third stanza to help the Blue Devils stave off elimination.

With some budding momentum on its side of the net, Duke continued into the fourth set, where the game turned into a defensive struggle. Both teams were unable to find a consistent offensive rhythm, with hitting percentages in the low .100s. Deichmeister continued to spread the ball across the court with Tucker and Meyer rocketing kills left and right. With the set tied at 17, outside hitter Emily Sklar took charge with two consecutive points, and the Blue Devils maintained the edge to force a final frame.

"We really wanted to use our middle and right sides a lot just with the matchups," Deichmeister said. "[We] thought going into those would be effective and they were effective for us. We stuck to the game plan and it worked for most of the time." 

Sklar—who did not play Sunday against N.C. State—picked up a double-double Friday, finishing with 18 kills and 10 digs.

After drawing even, Duke seemed on its way to completing its comeback, establishing an 8-4 lead in the fifth set before the teams switched sides. But the Seminoles fought back to tie the game at 12, and the Blue Devils seemed to finally run out of gas, yielding the game to their opponents through an attack error in the last rally.

"I'm sure they were tired. But at the same time, I think for this team, there are so many things that this team has tried to overcome this season," Nagel said. "But I think it’s very emotional when we were playing as well as we did in a tight situation. I think it gets a little bit emotional for us, and we just gotta believe and have confidence in ourselves that we can finish it."

Duke will have to rebound quickly from the frustrating loss before hosting Miami Sunday at 1 p.m.