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Duke volleyball shakes off jitters to open ACC play with comfortable victory

<p>Leah Meyer has emerged as a consistent blocker for the Blue Devils.</p>

Leah Meyer has emerged as a consistent blocker for the Blue Devils.

After an up-and-down nonconference slate, the Blue Devils started ACC play on the right foot to keep themselves in the NCAA tournament conversation.

Duke beat Wake Forest 3-1 (22-25, 25-13, 25-18, 25-20) Friday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium in its conference opener. With outside hitters Payton Schwantz and Cadie Bates firing on all cylinders and junior Leah Meyer back on the court for the first time since Sept. 1, the Blue Devils bounced back from a rocky first set to rout the Demon Deacons with ease.

“We were just not playing like ourselves at all [in the first set]. It was like we hadn't been playing together at all,” Duke head coach Jolene Nagel said. “People were a little tight—first ACC match jitters—but we were just not ourselves out there. I was really really excited to see coming into that second set how we calmed down and started to execute like ourselves. It's a good sign that we can do that even when we're anxious.”

Although the Blue Devils (9-3, 1-0 in the ACC) cruised through most of their evening against Wake Forest (8-5, 0-1), they looked shaky stepping onto the court.

Although Duke's recently improved defense stayed true to form, frequent offensive miscues hindered the team throughout the first set. The Demon Deacons broke a 14-14 tie with a 6-0 run to take a commanding lead. Although the Blue Devils responded with a five-point run of their own, Duke’s disorganized offense—which committed eight attack errors in the first set and hit just .125—could not find a foothold. Down 23-20, Schwantz tried to keep the Blue Devils afloat with back-to-back kills before Wake Forest’s Caroline Kuhn—who notched five kills in the first set—closed the frame out for the Demon Deacons.

However, by the start of the second set, it looked as if two completely different teams were playing.

Bates and Schwantz led the attack for Duke, finding holes in Wake Forest’s front line and taking advantage of frequent errors by the Demon Deacons to give the Blue Devils an early 10-5 lead. Wake Forest never got closer than five points, as the Demon Deacons hit -.074 for the remainder of the frame. Unlike Wake Forest’s dangerous offense of the first set, the Demon Deacons gave the Duke six of its last nine points on errors.

Riding the momentum of a dominant second set, the Blue Devils wasted no time in jumping ahead again, never trailing in the third set. Schwantz contributed five kills in the frame, and Wake Forest's scattered offense hit just .097. Although Demon Deacon Kylie Long—who totaled 15 kills for the evening—notched impressive kills off lengthy rallies throughout the set, frequent service errors stopped Wake Forest from building any momentum.

The Demon Deacons did not make it easy for Duke to close the match out in the fourth set.

Wake Forest’s Caroline Rassenfoss contributed three kills in the set's first 10 points, putting the Demon Deacons up 7-3. Despite Bates' and Meyer’s best efforts in clawing back the lead, spectacular kills from Long, Kuhn, and Rossenfoss held the Blue Devils at bay for most of the frame.

“We were down by quite a bit in that fourth set—and at a point in time I don't even look at the score,” Nagel said. “[Wake] was being very, very aggressive, and we were getting caught on our heels a little bit and weren't able to put anything together points-wise.”

But in the end, Wake Forest’s inconsistency cost the Demon Deacons the match.

Up 16-12, the Demon Deacons committed errors on four straight points to even the score. From there, Duke took the reins and closed the evening on a 9-2 run, capped by Schwantz’s 14th kill of the night.

Although miscues from Wake Forest heavily contributed to the Blue Devils' victory—the Demon Deacons had 27 errors, compared to Duke's 18—the Blue Devils did show significant improvement after last weekend’s disappointing loss to Loyola Marymount. Duke posted 12 total team blocks—the first time it has posted double-digit blocks since its match against Colorado. Meyer contributed four block assists to go along with six kills in her return from an injury that kept her out for three weeks.

“[Leah] is just a baller,” Schwantz said. “She's always pulling through, doing her part, and it makes things easier. It just makes things easier—not that our other middles aren't doing their part—but Leah is just a different kind of presence. Every player is different, but she just has a little extra pizzazz to it.”

The Blue Devils will continue their conference slate in Cameron Sunday at 1 p.m. against Georgia Tech.

“This was an emotional win for us tonight,” Nagel said. “Wake Forest did a great job and came at us hard in the fourth set. We need to recover and make sure we do a good job of that. We'll turn the page and look at Georgia Tech as a team tomorrow, but hopefully our team is taking a look at some of that stuff tonight.”


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