Although five Blue Devils call California home, their trip west for a nonconference tournament was anything but a pleasant homecoming.
Duke went 1-2 at the LBSU/LMU Baden Invitational Friday and Saturday. The Blue Devils swept Harvard (25-18, 25-16, 25-19) Friday afternoon in Long Beach, Calif., before falling to Long Beach State in a five-set battle late Friday night (20-25, 25-15, 11-25, 25-23, 15-8). On Saturday, Duke took on No. 25 Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles and struggled to build momentum, losing in straight sets (25-21, 26-24, 25-18).
“I am really proud of how we competed and just know that we had moments that things were really good, moments that were brilliant,” Blue Devil head coach Jolene Nagel said. “But at critical times, we had someone make some errors, and if we can find a way through that then I am very optimistic of this team’s success.”
Facing the Crimson for the first time in program history, the Blue Devils (4-4) came out hot, winning 12 of the first 17 points en route to a first set win. Duke sustained its strong play—something it was not able to do in losses against then-No. 12 North Carolina and TCU—holding the Crimson to a .056 hitting percentage and collecting 52 digs. Senior Jordan Tucker led the way with 10 kills, with sophomores Jessi Bartholomew and Leah Meyer adding nine apiece to easily dispatch Harvard (1-5).
Nagel’s team sought revenge against Long Beach State after losing in five sets last season, but once again the Blue Devils could not push through the finish line.
After blowing a two-set lead at home against TCU, Duke struggled again after taking a 2-1 lead against the 49ers (5-4) following a 25-11 victory in the third set. Led by freshman outside hitter Jamie Stivers, who had a career-high 17 kills to go along with 12 digs, the Blue Devils took a 21-19 lead in the fourth frame to inch closer to victory. But Duke could not finish the job, dropping six of the next eight points and never finding its rhythm in the final set.
Although Meyer had 14 kills Friday night, she and her teammates often struggled against Long Beach State’s blockers, who combined for 20.5 blocks in the contest. Eleven of those came from 49er freshman middle blocker YiZhi Xue.
“When a team is that big, you definitely have to be able to work with all kinds of different balls,” Nagel said. “I was pleased with how we competed but not pleased with the way we couldn’t finish to get that match.”
Despite keeping the first two sets close against Loyola Marymount, the Blue Devils dropped both frames late and allowed the Lions (6-3) to go on a 10-5 run in the third set.
Loyola Marymount hit .343 for the match and had half as many attack errors as Duke.
“The numbers are close except we had a lot more killing errors than they did so that’s where they got their points, on our killing errors,” Nagel said.
Following a busy weekend on the road, Duke will return home for a pair of contests against Campbell and UNC-Wilmington to finish nonconference play.
“We are right there and hopefully we can get better [after] the results of this weekend,” Nagel said. “We easily could have gone and played someone easy, but I don’t think we would have learned nearly enough about ourselves.”
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