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Duke volleyball sputters against Loyola Marymount to wrap up nonconference slate

<p>Payton Schwantz had 16 kills to lead the Blue Devils in Saturday's loss.</p>

Payton Schwantz had 16 kills to lead the Blue Devils in Saturday's loss.

Looking to close out the nonconference schedule with a bang, Duke instead ended it with a thud against Loyola Marymount.

Duke lost 3-1 (13-25, 25-23, 22-25, 23-25) in a close match to Loyola Marymount at Cameron Indoor Stadium Saturday night. Freshman Payton Schwantz and California native Cadie Bates were the bright spots of the Blue Devils’ four-set loss to a team that beat No. 24 North Carolina in five sets Friday night. 

The Lions’ consistent hitters proved to be too much to overcome. Although redshirt freshman Sarah Nelson and senior Emma Paradiso had 25 and 20 assists, respectively, Duke’s attackers hit at a mere .254 rate.

“We just didn’t serve the ball as well as we needed to, didn’t have many aces, had a few too many errors, and that hurts when you are playing a close match,” Blue Devil head coach Jolene Nagel said. “We came up just short, and I think our team needs to get better as a result of this. I think this needs to be something that sticks with them a little bit, motivates us to be better the next time we get on the court.”

Duke (8-3) did not get off to the start that it needed to in order to roll into conference play on a high note. Early in the first set, the Blue Devils went down 7-3 after several Loyola Marymount kills—the Lions (7-4) openly displayed their power with 18 kills in the opening set. 

After a Schwantz kill brought Duke within one, Loyola Marymount responded with six unanswered to extend its lead to 18-11, leading to Nagel’s second timeout of the opening frame. But the timeout did not help matters, and the Lions secured the set win with a 13-2 scoring run. With six errors and a .071 hitting percentage, the Blue Devils needed something more from their hitters to open Set 2.

“I was really happy the way the team responded after that first set. We almost seemed frozen,” Nagel said. “We weren’t executing any kind of way in that first set. So, in the second set, to see them come out and be a lot more aggressive and go after it was nice to see and a really good sign.”

The second set showed the fans why this team had rallied for some tough nonconference wins in recent weeks. Two early blocks from freshman Summer Brown helped Duke come within one point early on in the set, an example of the team’s ability to block effectively and make the most out of its chances. One such opportunity came by way of Schwantz with a powerful kill, giving the Blue Devils their first lead of the set. 

Duke started to pull away, forcing Loyola Marymount to use a timeout after a 5-0 run, but the Lions rallied to knot the score at 22 apiece. The Blue Devils responded with three of the last four points to win the set off of a misfire by Loyola Marymount’s Savannah Slattery. Duke’s three errors in the set were the fewest it committed in any of the match’s four frames.

“Their serving was really tough, and it got us out of system quite a bit, so then we weren’t able to hit as hard,” Bates said. “But, once we started controlling our serve receive, we started passing. We felt really confident. It allowed our setters to move the ball around more, get the right-sided middles going and then Payton and I swinging on the outside.”

The Blue Devils’ momentum did not spill over into the third set, when the Lions took a quick 8-3 lead, but a pass from Nelson to Schwantz gave the team its first lead of the set at 14-13. 

However, Duke was never able to regain its footing after losing three straight points to fall behind 19-17. Schwantz could not convert on her serve, as she sailed her overhand swing past the back line of the court at Cameron. Eight errors plagued the Blue Devils in the set.

“Serving was definitely a key to us being able to be successful tonight, but I don’t think that we executed on that as well as we needed to,” Nagel said. “Loyola Marymount had a lot to do with that and the fact that they were a really good defensive team, controlled the ball really well just made it a lot harder for us to be able to put a ball away.”

The fourth set wasn’t much different. After an early Loyola Marymount lead, Duke took advantage of strong play from Bates and sophomore Samantha Amos to seize an 18-15 lead. However, a miscommunication near the net gave the Lions a 22-21 advantage they would never relinquish. 

With the Blue Devils trailing 24-23, Brown followed through too far on a kill attempt and touched the net, resulting in game, set and match in favor of Loyola Marymount.

“[I’m] really proud of them for that and I think that at the end of the match they hung tough.... They gave ourselves a chance,” Nagel said. “A couple different things here and there could have been a different outcome, or at least we’d be in set five, which would have been great for this team.”

The match did start on a memorable note, as Jacki Silar, senior associate director of athletics, presented Nagel with a game ball in honor of her 600th career win against TCU last weekend. But Nagel was only looking forward after the match and eager for the next week of practice.

“We’re on a fun journey, to tell you the truth,” Nagel said. “It’s hard to maybe feel that right this moment after a loss that we know we could have been just a little bit better.”

If the nonconference slate was fun, then conference play will bring even more excitement to this young team. With fewer quick turnarounds coming up, Nagel believes that the team will be fresher as conference play begins next weekend. Duke takes on Wake Forest next Friday night and Georgia Tech Sunday afternoon at home.

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