RALEIGH—Heading into Sunday’s match, the Blue Devils were hungry to prove themselves. Having dropped three of their previous four matches, Duke needed to right the ship, and was able to do so on the road.
The Blue Devils took down N.C. State (25-12, 26-28, 16-25, 25-20, 15-12) in a grueling five-set duel at Broughton High School. The battle required the absolute best from Leah Meyer, Jordan Tucker and Cadie Bates, all of whom had 13 or more kills to power Duke to victory.
The Blue Devils were fed up with their recent struggles, and brought that emotion to the court against the Wolfpack.
“We’re done losing. It's time to step up,” Bates said. “We told each other that nothing was going to stop us today, so we were going to fight all the way to the end no matter how many games that went…. Everybody on the court had good energy and it was a really fun fight.”
Duke (7-7, 2-2 in the ACC) faced an upward battle before the match even started, as senior outside hitter Emily Sklar dressed for the contest but did not play. Sklar—who head coach Jolene Nagel said was a game-time decision—leads the ACC in kills per set and has been the anchor for the Blue Devil offense, but the rest of the team’s hitters had no problem picking up the slack. Bates, Meyer, and Tucker accounted for more than two-thirds of the team’s total.
Duke started off hot in the first set, jumping out to a quick 8-3 lead that forced an early N.C. State timeout. The Blue Devils were aggressive offensively and kept the Wolfpack on the defensive thanks to Tucker, who tallied five kills in the frame. The Wolfpack (12-4, 1-3) failed to gain any kind of momentum—posting a .280 hitting percentage—while Duke ran away with the first set, 25-12. Early signs foreshadowed a quick and decisive Blue Devil sweep, but the rest of the match would not be so easy.
N.C. State quickly improved its play and battled hard to fight back in the following two sets. The missed blocking opportunities and unforced errors that marred the Wolfpack’s first set disappeared, and left Duke with a challenging test ahead. N.C. State stayed neck-and-neck with the Blue Devils, eventually leading the second set 21-20 and forcing a Duke timeout. The teams continued to trade blows, but Duke faltered after a powerful kill by Wolfpack freshman Blayke Hranicka followed by a service error by Meyer. The Blue Devils had six hitting errors in the second set, compared to zero in the first set.
The third frame brought more of the same, as N.C. State claimed a 25-16 decision that was highlighted by a .760 hitting percentage. Five more hitting errors prevented the Blue Devils from developing any offensive rhythm.
With their backs against the wall, the Blue Devils entered the fourth set needing to recover the momentum of the first. Bates—among the most animated and energetic of the team’s players—said she knew that the team could turn it around at any moment.
“No matter what happens, you could win,” Bates said. “Having that positive energy and momentum [is] what keeps you going…. I definitely pride myself on keeping that energy the whole time.”
Bates was at the forefront of the Duke comeback, leading the team in the fourth set with four kills and also picking up three digs in the back row. Thanks to her efforts, along with those of a Blue Devil front row that accumulated 14 blocks on the day, Duke forced a final set with a 25-20 win. The team's 14 blocks were in stark contrast to their total of just one Friday at North Carolina.
The final set was a continuation of the afternoon's roller coaster of events. Duke led early after a soft shot from redshirt senior setter Maggie Deichmeister put the Blue Devils up 10-7, but consecutive serve-receive miscommunications by Duke allowed the Wolfpack to recover and take a 12-11 lead. When the Blue Devils needed a rally to earn the victory, Bates and Meyer came up with back-to-back blocks that sent Duke out in front, 14-12. Deichmeister delivered the final blow with a service ace that brought the Blue Devils back to winning form.
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Nagel noted that the other hitters’ ability to step in for Sklar was the most impressive part of Sunday’s victory.
“[N.C.] State is a very gutsy, quality team that always fights hard,” Nagel said. “[I was happy] to see our team make some adjustments that we needed to out there… It showed what we’ve known all along: that our team had some depth….[Today’s win] should only help us understand that on any given day, we can count on somebody to come in and help us.”
The Blue Devils will look to continue Sunday’s momentum boost when they face No. 17 Florida State Friday at 6:30 p.m. at Cameron Indoor Stadium.