Friday night's match ended fittingly—with Georgia Tech junior middle blocker Lauren Pitz picking up her eighth kill of the night to take down the Blue Devils in a tight final set.
After rattling off four straight victories, the Blue Devils took a step back Friday, failing to capture a single set at O'Keefe Gym in Atlanta. Although each set remained relatively close—the first was tied at 23-23, the second went to 23-22, and the final set was tied at 25 apiece before Georgia Tech took the final two points and the victory—the Blue Devils were swept for the first time since Oct. 18 against then-No. 25 Louisville.
“Those set scores are very, very close, but a lot of it were unforced errors on our side to come up short, so that’s very disappointing,” Duke head coach Nagel said. “They had less errors, that’s the difference. I’m talking about unforced errors, and I’m talking about blocking errors, about serving errors, things you can control. There were a lot of good things, we just negated them with unforced errors.”
With the set tied at 23-23 in the first set, a long rally was capped by an emphatic kill from Yellow Jacket sophomore outside hitter Ashley Askin. On the following play, a service ace from junior Annika van Gust closed out the close set in favor of Georgia Tech (16-9, 7-6 in the ACC).
After pulling within one late in the second set, the Blue Devils again could not complete the comeback, allowing the Yellow Jackets to pick up two consecutive points capped by a set-winning kill from Pitz.
Although these plays put the nail in the coffin for the Blue Devils, the loss was a result of a string of unforced errors early in sets that took away from later opportunities, Nagel said.
Freshman Leah Meyer compiled 14 kills to match captain Emily Sklar. Sklar, a senior, was injured early in the season but has returned to make an impact for the Blue Devils.
“She’s played these teams [in the ACC] for four years. She has some idea about them and a good understanding of it. She did pretty well tonight,” Nagel said. “Offensively, she did a good job. I think she played pretty steady, and we need her to do that.”
Together, Sklar and Meyer committed eight of the Blue Devils' 18 attack errors. Junior middle blocker Jordan Tucker—who had been on fire for Duke of late—was held to just seven kills and six attack errors, and the rest of the Blue Devils (12-11, 7-6) put together efficient offensive games, but the entire team has to step up together to find success in ACC play.
Duke traveled to Greenville, S.C. and will practice at a local high school Saturday before continuing to Clemson for their matchup against the ACC’s last-place team. Clemson has yet to win a game in league play this season, but Nagel noted that the Blue Devils cannot overlook the Tigers.
“We need to pick up some things on our end that we can control. We can control our serve, the ball when we get it, and we can control doing a better job of communication,” Nagel said. “I think we need to do a better job on the things we can control and compete harder to be good going into Sunday.”
The Blue Devils are currently ranked 68th in the RPI, a key metric looked at by the NCAA tournament selection committee in selecting teams for the postseason. Only 64 squads will qualify for the tournament, putting Duke firmly on the bubble with seven more matches left in the regular season.
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