After falling short on its home court last weekend, Duke rallied hard in Texas with a perfect tournament that included head coach Jolene Nagel’s 600th career win.
The Blue Devils emerged victorious from all three matches this weekend in the Fight in the Fort at the University Recreation Center in Fort Worth, Texas, including a sweep of host TCU. Duke routed the Horned Frogs Friday night 3-0 (27-25, 25-20, 25-18) in addition to adding two five-set victories Saturday versus Utah Valley 3-2 (21-25, 25-19, 15-25, 25-23, 15-4) and Lehigh 3-2 (21-25, 22-25, 25-23, 25-19, 15-12).
Duke turned in one of its top offensive performances of the season against TCU, hitting at a .347 clip, and one of its top defensive performances against Lehigh, holding the Mountain Hawks to a .157 hitting percentage.
“I’m really excited and proud of our team,” Nagel said. “They put in a hard week of practice. They were really disciplined and focused. They really executed well.”
Freshman Payton Schwantz had 14 kills to lead the Blue Devils past the Horned Frogs (5-3) in the weekend opener, easily dispatching a team that made the 2016 NCAA tournament and won in Durham last season.
Duke (7-2) maintained a six-point lead in the first set before TCU mounted a comeback to tie it at 22. The Blue Devils were able to put the Horned Frogs away five points later on a service ace from Emma Paradiso.
“The team did a really good job of serving,” Nagel said. “That kept TCU from being able to do what they wanted to do.”
TCU fought hard again in the second set, keeping it competitive until the Blue Devils reached the 20-point mark. The Horned Frogs then made key attack errors that allowed Duke to clean up the set with another service ace.
The third set saw an even more dominating performance from the Blue Devils, as they built a substantial lead and clinched the match with a 25-18 win. The victory made Nagel the 22nd active NCAA Division I head coach to reach 600 career wins.
“I honestly had no idea,” Nagel said. “As a coach, you just keep thinking about how to get the next one. It means I’ve been coaching a long time, but what sticks out the most is what a tremendous group of motivated, talented and determined young women I’ve had the pleasure to work with over the years. It’s really been a joy and an honor to be their coach.”
Entering Saturday with one win under their belt, the Blue Devils faced Utah Valley (5-6) to open play and to grab their first of two five-set victories. The match saw four Duke players in double-digit kills in Schwantz, sophomore Samantha Amos and seniors Anna Kropf and Cadie Bates.
The first set of the match was dominated by the Wolverines, who posted a .342 hitting percentage and a 7-3 run down the stretch. The Blue Devils fought back in the second to tie the match at 1-1, but Utah Valley then posted a .364 hitting clip to Duke’s .109 to claim the third.
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The Blue Devils rallied from being down 2-1 in the fourth set with the help of a 12-5 run. The Wolverines tied the match up at 23 before a kill from Bates and a service ace from freshman Summer Brown forced a fifth set. Duke cleaned up the final frame after taking a 10-2 lead to win the match.
The final test against Lehigh (5-3) also reached five sets and featured an even rally fueled on defense by 29 digs from senior Nicole Elattrache, who was named the tournament MVP. The Blue Devils also had three players with double-digit kills.
The Mountain Hawks took the first set after escaping a comeback attempt from Duke, and a Blue Devil rally was again denied in a tight second set as Lehigh took a commanding lead.
Duke then kicked it into gear, starting off with a strong lead in the third and fighting off a Mountain Hawk rally of their own. The Blue Devils then cruised through the fourth and fifth sets and clinched the match on a kill by Natalie Schilling.
At the end of the tournament, Schwantz and Bates joined Elattrache on the All-Tournament team.
“I’m really excited and pleased with the resilience of our team this weekend,” Nagel said. “It was a great opportunity to continue to grow together and get to know one another on the court. This past week, our team really committed themselves in practice, and it showed this weekend.”
The Blue Devils have one more weekend of nonconference play, facing Coastal Carolina and Loyola Marymount next week at Cameron Indoor Stadium.