With matchups against two top-10 teams and fellow ACC contenders on the horizon in the next 11 days, the Blue Devils are being careful not to overlook their next two league foes as they gear up for the season's stretch run.
No. 14 Duke will continue conference play Thursday at 3:30 p.m. by hosting Wake Forest at Ambler Tennis Stadium before traveling to Syracuse, N.Y., to take on the Orange at the Drumlins Country Club Sunday at 11 a.m. Although the Blue Devils are undefeated in league action, close matches last weekend at Notre Dame and Boston College proved again that unranked teams can still give Duke trouble, and the Demon Deacons currently sit just outside the top 25.
Following their matchups this week, the Blue Devils will face No. 3 North Carolina, Louisville and No. 6 Georgia Tech—the only other team still perfect in ACC play—to wrap up the regular season with a grueling stretch of five dual matches in 11 days.
“[Wake Forest and Syracuse] are both really good teams,” Duke head coach Jamie Ashworth said. “We just have to take every match as its own entity and not overlook anybody.... We have to welcome teams to play their best, and that's what we want. That's what's going to prepare us for the [ACC] tournament in a couple weeks and the NCAA tournament after that.”
In both singles and doubles, senior Chalena Scholl and sophomore Kaitlyn McCarthy have anchored the Blue Devils (15-3, 9-0 in the ACC), a trend Duke will need to continue this week.
Both players are undefeated against conference opponents in singles, with McCarthy not dropping a match in singles dating back to nonconference action Feb. 10, and Scholl only losing one conference doubles match with senior partner Alyssa Smith.
Scholl has also been a clutch player for Duke, tipping 3-3 matches in her team's favor against then-No. 15 TCU in a grueling 6-7 (4-7), 7-6 (7-4), 6-4 matchup against Olaya Garrido-Rivas and again last weekend against Notre Dame in a 0-6, 6-2, 6-2 victory against Allison Miller.
“In those situations I try to think of every point we play,” Scholl said. “Of course it's more of a pressure situation but again being the last match out there is kind of a timing thing, so you just have to try to play every point as best as you can.”
Although the Blue Devils have shown strength on all courts at times, the lower courts have given Duke an edge so far in league play when the team's top players have been erratic.
Despite not playing not playing from October to February, sophomore Ellyse Hamlin has gone 6-2 in league singles on Court 6 and 4-2 in conference doubles with junior Samantha Harris, securing key doubles points for the Blue Devils. Smith has also been a steady presence on Court 5, winning seven of her last nine matches.
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Although their upper courts have been a bit more inconsistent in their past two singles outings, 33rd-ranked freshman Meible Chi is still a force to be reckoned with, boasting an overall 28-10 singles record and winning eight of her past 10 matches.
“We don't have to rely on one person or two people to win the points for us,” Ashworth said. “In past years if we don’t get a win on Court 1 or Court 3 or certain positions then our team was in trouble, but this team last weekend and throughout this season has gotten points all over our lineup.”
However, despite its depth across the board, the Blue Devils will still have to stay focused against Wake Forest—which came in at No. 26 in the ITA's latest poll.
The Demon Deacons (16-6, 6-4) currently sit fourth in the conference thanks to consistency on the upper courts. No. 52 Kimmy Guerin has won seven of her last 10 matches, including victories against 48th-ranked Rosie Johanson from Virginia and No. 66 Martina Frantova of N.C. State. Against Duke’s No. 73 Harris on Court 1, Guerin could snag an early point for the Demon Deacons, as the Blue Devil junior has dropped four of her last six matchups.
Although Duke had strong showings in doubles last weekend against Notre Dame and Boston College, Wake Forest has had its own successes in that area. The duo of Alexis Franco and Courtney Meredith are currently 5-1 on Court 3, and the Demon Deacons could apply some early pressure by putting the Blue Devils in an early hole.
Despite Syracuse’s (7-10, 4-6) status as an unranked team, the Orange can still be dangerous on the singles courts—they are coming off an upset victory against Miami and pushed Georgia Tech to the brink by winning three points earlier this season. No. 94 Miranda Ramirez is 9-1 in singles in league play, and No. 80 Gabriela Knutson has also nabbed seven of her last 10 matches.
“Every team we play can have a good team and any team can come out and beat us on a given day.” Scholl said. “If we just think about it just like any other match and not treat it any differently we can focus on continuing to improve in the next few days.”
With the postseason just two weeks away, the Blue Devils hope to continue to improve leading up to the ACC tournament.
“Our mindset doesn't change,” Ashworth said. “We have two tough matches before that. Our focus is 100 percent on Wake Forest first and then we have Syracuse after that.... If we lose our focus for one second, we can get beat way before those matches start. “