RALEIGH—A devastating loss to North Carolina could have been the catalyst to snap the Blue Devils out of their ACC struggles, but Duke's slump instead continued in another rivalry matchup against N.C. State.

The Blue Devils fell to the Wolfpack in three straight sets (25-23, 27-25, 25-18) at Reynolds Coliseum Sunday afternoon. Although Duke’s defense shined throughout the match, with 12 total blocks, including seven from freshman Summer Brown, the Blue Devils were inconsistent and error-prone offensively.

“I think that we started off executing very well, but there were moments where we just had a lack of discipline," Duke head coach Jolene Nagel said. "Whether it was our defense, our blocking or covering, that was really the difference-maker.”

Even with N.C. State (11-6, 6-0 in the ACC) playing without star freshman Melissa Evans due to injury, the two teams looked evenly matched in the first set, going back and forth with seven lead changes in all. The Blue Devils (11-6, 3-3) controlled the net early with six blocks by the end of the set and had several chances to pull away. 

However, deflating errors made it impossible for Duke to gain any sort of rhythm, which ultimately led to the Blue Devils losing a close set.

“I think our mistakes [in set one] plagued us throughout the match,” Nagel said. “There were many times where we could have taken advantage of opportunities and didn’t, while it felt like [N.C. State] took advantage of every opportunity they had in the game.”

Duke came out strong in the second set, capitalizing on the Wolfpack’s weaknesses and showing its true potential. Everything was clicking for freshman Payton Schwantz and senior Cadie Bates, who combined for 10 kills in the set. It appeared as though the Blue Devils could do no wrong, as they quickly gained as much as a six-point lead and maintained a 24-19 advantage, needing just one more point to close out the set and even the match.

However, a quick 3-0 run by by N.C. State, with two of those points caused by Duke attack errors, brought the Wolfpack within two. A Nagel timeout to calm her players did not stop the run, as N.C. State came back to tie the game at 24 and then eventually won the set on yet another Blue Devil attack error.

“We have to get better at putting the ball away on the first chance given,” Nagel said. “Volleyball is a strange game where momentum can switch quickly...we were right there but we couldn’t maintain our composure to close [the set] out.”

After being stunned by the Wolfpack’s second-set comeback, Duke looked out of sync throughout the third set. N.C. State took control early, and by the time the score reached 18-10 in favor of the Wolfpack, nine of N.C. State’s 18 points were due to unforced attack errors by the Blue Devils. Duke's hitting percentage for the set was just .026, making it easy for the Wolfpack to wrap up the sweep.

Although the Blue Devils did not play their best volleyball against N.C. State, Nagel was still confident in her team after the game

“I see things that are coming together for this team,” Nagel said. “If we keep working on the things we need to, good things can happen for us.”

Duke will need to finish sets strong and reduce mental mistakes in order to have a chance at two home wins against ACC powerhouses next weekend against Miami Friday at 6:30 p.m. and Florida State Sunday at 1 p.m.