Heading into the weekend, Duke won 22 of its previous 30 road meetings against Virginia.
The Blue Devils earned their 23rd victory this weekend, but it did not come without drama.
Duke remained undefeated in ACC play after a hard-fought 3-2 victory against Virginia (22-25, 32-30, 25-22, 24-26, 15-7) Saturday night at Memorial Gymnasium in Charlottesville, Va. After struggling offensively in the first four sets—during which the Blue Devils’ hitting percentage did not exceed .200—the Blue Devils dominated the decisive fifth frame, finishing at a .357 clip and holding the Cavaliers to only one kill in the set.
“This kind of win for us really helped us grow as a team,” Duke head coach Jolene Nagel said. "Because we couldn’t just have had one or two people, we had to have contribution from many people, not only on the offensive end but also on the defensive end. It was exciting to see everybody doing their parts and supporting each other to get it done.”
With the victory, the Blue Devils (8-4, 2-0 in the ACC) are now on a four-game winning streak after suffering two straight losses in early September.
Four players paced Duke's offense with double-digit kills, led by sophomore Jessi Bartholomew’s 15. Sophomore middle blocker Leah Meyer recorded her first career double-double with 12 kills and 11 blocks, and freshman setter Cindy Marina distributed the ball with poise, finishing with 49 assists and 22 digs.
“Cindy is gaining experience all the time when she is on the court,” Nagel said. “I had no idea her dig numbers were that great but that’s pretty spectacular for her position—a setter to have that number of digs. She’s very talented and she has a good head on her shoulder— big composure out there on the court."
After splitting the first 10 points of the match with Virginia (3-11, 0-2), the Blue Devils found themselves on the wrong side of a 5-0 run by Cavaliers. With both teams struggling to hit their targets offensively in the middle of the first set, Virginia held a slim lead throughout the set, going up 1-0 after a service error by Duke freshman Samantha Amos.
The Blue Devils then jumped out to a 6-3 start in the second stanza but could not maintain their advantage for long, as Virginia won 10 of the next 15 points. The two teams traded kills in the middle of the set before Duke took a 22-19 lead on a kill by senior captain Jordan Tucker—who recorded 11 kills by the end of the day.
But the Cavaliers did not yield the set without a fight. After Virginia tied the stanza at 24, neither squad could win two straight points to pull away with the set. Duke finally evened the match, after a kill by Amos and Bartholomew's service ace helped the Blue Devils take the set 32-30.
Duke built on its momentum, as it led the third frame from start to finish. But as was the case in the second stanza, the fourth set came down to the wire with both squads tied at 24-24. Backed by a raucous crowd, Virginia clinched the last two points with strong efforts from seniors Alex Thorson and Haley Kole—who finished with a career-high 25 kills and 12 digs.
The Blue Devils split their previous four five-set matches of the season. But as Duke entered the decisive frame Saturday night, it was evident that they were not ready to lose this one. Backed by a 10-4 start, the Blue Devil offense overwhelmed the Cavaliers and kept their attack in check, holding Virginia to a mere -.235 hitting rate. Bartholomew delivered four consecutive kills and Duke cashed in on the match point after a Meyer block.
“We got a great start for that fifth set, and that helped a lot,” Nagel said. “We were controlling the ball when we had the chance to touch it, when we able to get it [to] the setter and that helped a lot [to] be able to open up our hitters, to be able to make you have a better chance of putting the ball away for scoring.”
The Blue Devils will continue ACC play when a pair of road games against Notre Dame and Louisville this weekend.
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