With just three weeks left until the postseason, the Blue Devils will need as many wins as they can muster to get a chance at an NCAA tournament bid.

But with a win and a loss this weekend, Duke remains in the middle of the pack in the ACC, needing everything to go right the rest of the way for a shot at the postseason.

The Blue Devils took down Notre Dame 3-1 (19-25, 34-32, 25-18, 25-23) at Cameron Indoor Stadium before taking a loss against Louisville 3-2 (23-25, 22-25, 25-22, 25-16, 15-10) Sunday at home. Against the Fighting Irish, Duke showed an impressive display of defense, led by a career-high 32 digs from senior Cadie Bates to rally for a win. But the Cardinals flipped the script, coming back from a 2-0 deficit to silence the home crowd.

“I was proud of the way our team came out and was aggressive,” Blue Devil head coach Jolene Nagel said. “[They] executed, worked together and made things happen, which was tremendous. I'm really proud of this group for some of the adjustments that we've had to continue to make throughout the season.”

In its opening set of the weekend, Duke (16-9, 8-6 in the ACC) struggled to find its footing against Notre Dame’s highly-touted defense.

Limiting the Blue Devils to just 10 kills and a .021 hitting percentage, Notre Dame (17-8, 7-7) kept Duke at bay. The Blue Devils never came within four after the early stages of the set, with Notre Dame taking multiple uncontested runs to secure an early lead.

But after a grueling two weeks of road conference matches, the Blue Devils weren’t about to fall in their first match back home.

In a set that featured 15 ties, Duke led 24-21 off a kill from sophomore Samantha Amos, but the Fighting Irish clawed back with four straight points to put the Blue Devils behind 25-24. The two teams traded points until Bates—who notched 17 kills for the match—sank two explosive kills and Amos delivered a service ace that knotted the match 1-1.

From the third set on, the Blue Devils controlled the match. Duke recorded a 7-0 run to create an 18-10 lead in the third before closing the frame 25-18, led by six kills from junior Jessi Bartholomew. Although Notre Dame managed to level the fourth set 20-20 thanks to a late rally, another kill from Bartholomew fueled a 3-0 Duke run. Freshman Payton Schwantz delivered the final kill, notching her 14th for the match to give the Blue Devils their fifth straight conference win.

“We started off slow,” Nagel said. “We were not playing at the level we were capable of. There was definitely a switch going into that second set where we were really playing at the level we were playing at practice, and then we were able to really able to go after it.”

But Duke’s streak wouldn’t last forever, as the Blue Devils could not find an answer Sunday to Louisville’s imposing defense.

Duke opened its first two sets against the Cardinals (18-6, 12-2) hitting its offensive stride. Although Louisville held the Blue Devils close in the first set, five kills from senior Anna Kropf helped push Duke forward 25-23. The second set was a similar story, with Duke taking an early 10-6 lead before the Cardinals came back to trim the gap to 23-21. Another herculean effort from the Blue Devils—this time led by Bates with seven kills in the frame—gave Duke a 2-0 lead.

Louisville came out from the locker room out to prove why it is third in the ACC.

The third set was drawn out back-and-forth and featured 13 ties. The Cardinals finally found the advantage at 21-20 thanks to a 3-0 run. Led by five kills from junior Maddie DeJong, Louisville found the separation it needed to close the set 25-22—denying the Blue Devils their last real opportunity to take the match.

“We needed to get that third set and we came up a little short, and that cracks that window open for that momentum change in volleyball for a team to come back,” Nagel said.

By the fourth and fifth sets, the Cardinals had found their form. Louisville rocketed to an early 10-5 lead in the fourth, never letting Duke come within four. Thanks to an impressive defense and spearheaded by kills from freshman outside hitter Melanie McHenry, the Cardinals limited the Blue Devils to just nine kills to Louisville's 17, taking the fourth set handily 25-16 and knotting the match score 2-2.

Although Duke tried to find some momentum in the final set, the Cardinals had already locked down the match. The Blue Devils tried to push out of an 8-3 deficit but never came any closer to touching Louisville, falling 15-10.

The Blue Devils played without senior setter Emma Paradiso due to injury, instead relying on redshirt freshman Sarah Nelson and junior Haley Seyfarth to handle assists. Although Seyfarth did not play much in October, Duke still created opportunities for its scorers. 

The Blue Devils' contest against Louisville marked Bates’ 13th double-double of the season, Bartholomew’s sixth-straight game with double-digit kills and a career high 18 kills for Kropf, showing the Blue Devils are slowly developing a consistent offensive basis for the tail end of conference play.

Duke will be back in action Wednesday in Winston-Salem, N.C., to take on Wake Forest.

“We've had such a great last few weekends that every time that we can play, now and the rest of the season, we're still proving something,” Kropf said. “We're still out there to win it. Louisville is a solid team but we're up there with them, and we're going to show it through the rest of the season.”