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Duke volleyball drops another five-setter at home to Miami

<p>Junior Jordan Tucker led the team with 20 kills and a .267 hitting percentage Sunday, but it wasn't enough to stop Miami from dealing the Blue Devils their second straight five-set loss.</p>

Junior Jordan Tucker led the team with 20 kills and a .267 hitting percentage Sunday, but it wasn't enough to stop Miami from dealing the Blue Devils their second straight five-set loss.

For the second time in three days, the Blue Devils battled to the last second against their opponents, but ultimately the Hurricanes pulled through at the end to come away with a road win.

Miami upset Duke in a five-set cliffhanger (25-22, 26-28, 19-25, 25-19, 15-12) at Cameron Indoor Stadium Sunday afternoon. After a slow start, the Blue Devils bounced back to take down the second and the third sets, courtesy of junior middle blocker Jordan Tucker, who stuffed the stats sheet with 20 kills and five blocks on the day. But Duke’s offensive dry spell took its toll later in the game, as the Hurricanes caught up and closed the deal in the fourth and fifth sets.

“I feel like we didn’t execute nearly as well today,” Blue Devil head coach Jolene Nagel said. “I don’t feel like we came to compete and play as hard as we needed to get the win today. So there was a difference in the team. And I don’t think offensively we didn’t do a good job of attacking them. They were able to pretty well figure everything out. That’s why they were able to keep us at low hitting numbers.”

Duke (7-9, 2-4 in the ACC) started the game moving sluggishly on the court and was hammered by the heavy kills and aggressive serves from Miami outside hitters Olga Strantzali and Taylor Scott. At the same time, the Blue Devils were unable to retaliate with their own offense, troubled by a series of offensive errors that further widened the score in the Hurricanes’ favor.

Eventually, Duke found its rhythm and started to chip away at the deficit. The offense was recovering, as Tucker and senior Emily Sklar continued to pound the ball across the net. Meanwhile, blockers stepped in to hold off Miami’s offensive wave and stopped the bleeding. But after closing the gap to just one point at 22-23 in the opening stanza, the Blue Devils lost two quick points to Miami (11-5, 4-2) and gave away the set after a long comeback effort.

“That’s something that we’ve been talking about all year, trying to start off strong,” Tucker said. “[It’s] something we’ve struggled with but something we are really working to get better on. I think its just one of those days that not everything was working for us so we just started a little slower than we normally would.”

Duke learned from its slow start and began the second set aggressively, quickly establishing a 7-2 lead against the Hurricanes. Just when the crowd thought it would be an easy set for the home team, things got complicated again. The Blue Devils registered several attacking errors and allowed their opponents to even the score at 18-18. The two teams then went neck-and-neck all the way to 27-26 before Sklar delivered a decisive kill to seal the set for Duke.

The intensity escalated in the third set with six lead changes, with both team trading punches to regain momentum in the game. This time, it was the Blue Devils who came out on top late in the set, capitalizing on a number of attacking errors from Miami. As the set closed at 25-19, Duke seemed to have tipped the scales in its favor, and one more set would give them the win that eluded them in Friday’s loss to No. 18 Florida State.

But the Hurricanes were not ready to yield the game so easily. In the ensuing set, they formed an impenetrable barrier at the net and forced Duke to make numerous attacking errors, as the Blue Devils registered only a .091 hitting rate in the set. 

At the same time, Miami bewildered Duke's blockers with a combination of lobs and kills, trying to increase its lead on the scoreboard. Tucker fired several kills to help the Blue Devils tie the game at 16-16, but that was their last highlight in the set, as the Hurricanes blasted through nine quick points with their aggressive offense.

“I think blocking is a big thing that we can focus on and just give our defense opportunities to be successful, putting ourselves in a good position so they can be in a good position,” Tucker said. “I think if we can really step up our game in the blocking front, that would really help us all across the board.”

With the momentum shifting back to its side, Miami was firing on all cylinders in the final set of the game, overpowering Duke with its fierce offense. Nagel's club did its best to minimize the damage, with junior libero Sasha Karelov throwing herself onto the ground to counter the kills from the Hurricanes. The Raleigh, N.C., native finished the game with 30 digs, but it was not enough to stop Miami from capping off the week with a hard-fought road victory.

The Blue Devils will have leave the two home losses behind them as they hit the road next week to confront Notre Dame Friday and Louisville Sunday.

“It doesn’t get any easier,” Nagel said. “Both Notre Dame and Louisville are going to be tough matches on the road, so we need to take care of business when we get them at home. So its very disappointing that we didn’t lift our level up just a little bit higher to get it done today. But we are going to have to make sure we continue to grow as a team and work on some of these things so that we can be better offensively next time.”