As Senior Day approaches, the Blue Devils will try to recreate an earlier season’s success with an entirely new team.
Duke closes the regular season with matches Friday and Sunday, marking the end of an era for two Blue Devil seniors. Clemson visits Durham first for a 3 p.m. contest before Duke takes on rival No. 5 North Carolina Sunday at 1 p.m.
Veterans Josh Levine and Daniel McCall will play their last two regular season games at Ambler Tennis Stadium, hoping to put away the Tigers for the fourth straight time in their careers. Clemson started its season strong before collapsing with a four-game losing streak to end the month of March.
“They beat Notre Dame, and Notre Dame just beat UNC last weekend, so there’s just a lot of parity,” Duke head coach Ramsey Smith said. “They’re really dangerous, so I think we’re preparing for a battle.”
Duke (11-12, 4-6 in the ACC) will have to focus on snapping a two-match losing streak with a win against the Tigers(14-13, 4-7) before it can set its sights on the rivalry and celebrating its seniors.
Levine holds a 15-12 singles record overall, having rotated across courts four, five and six throughout the season. The Syosset, N.Y., native tied a team high in singles victories during his sophomore campaign with 32 wins and notched the most ACC doubles wins playing with then-senior Jason Tahir last season
“[Levine has] won so many big matches, and he’s just all about competing,” Smith said. “He’s the type of guy you love to have on your team, and everybody on the team knows that he’s always going to absolutely give it his all, and he’s just going to find a way to win. He obviously doesn’t always win, but he has that mentality going in that he can beat anybody.”
McCall is 8-11 this season and has seen the most action on court six or in doubles, where he has an 8-7 record since joining with teammate Jason Lapidus in mid-February. The San Francisco native said his favorite memories from his time at Duke were the 6 a.m. workouts that brought the team together before the season began.
“Dan struggled to get himself established in the lineup early on,” Smith said. “It’s been really rewarding for me to see him work really hard and put himself in a position to be in there this last semester.”
Levine and McCall are just two of three Blue Devils who can see parallels in this year’s season finale to that of the 2013-14 campaign, when then-No. 14 Duke closed its regular season with a 5-2 takedown of the then-No. 8 Tar Heels.
“Beating [North Carolina] is almost in a sense like our Super Bowl,” Levine said. “One of my favorite moments was Senior Day two years ago when we played UNC and it was a tight match. Both teams were equally as talented, and everyone kind of stepped up and played their best, and we got a win against UNC, on these courts, on Senior Day.”
In that match, Levine contributed a three-set win on court five against Jack Murray, who will return to Durham looking to improve his 22-5 record alongside three other teammates who competed in the match two years ago.
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This year’s Blue Devil roster is very different compared to the one that faced North Carolina (22-3, 7-3) with only Levine and junior T.J. Pura returning from the win. Duke introduced five freshmen to college tennis this year, and the growing pains have been severe at times.
The Blue Devils opened their dual season 1-4, facing three top-25 teams in the stretch. The tight competition early was nothing unfamiliar to the squad’s seniors, who have faced some of the nation’s best to open all four of their seasons on the team.
“[Tough competition early has] worked both ways. The first couple years, we had a really hard schedule, and we did very well, so that kind of inflated our ranking a bit,” McCall said. “This year, it worked against us a little bit—a couple of tough losses early to really good teams—but we’ve grown from those losses."
This year’s bout with the Tar Heels will mimic the 2014 edition with Duke as the underdog once again. The Blue Devils will face a squad that has just three losses, with three singles players ranked in the nation’s top 100 and boasts the No. 2 doubles team of Brett Clark and Robert Kelly.
“It will certainly be a challenge—they’ve obviously had a much better season than us this year,” Smith said. “Normally it’s pretty close, and often times we’re the one that’s ranked a little bit higher, so we really don’t have anything to lose…. If everyone’s playing their best, we’ve got a shot, but there’s not a whole lot of room for error.”
Sunday’s match marks a chance for Duke’s seniors to gain an edge in their career series against their rivals. With the ACC championship around the corner, the Blue Devils are reminded of losses in back-to-back seasons to the Tar Heels, dashing their hopes of their first conference title since 2006. But since 2013, Duke has not lost to the Tar Heels on its home courts.