Duke volleyball overpowered by No. 8 BYU, suffers sweep on season's first weekend

<p>Senior Leah Meyer led a young Duke squad in a close match against Brigham Young.</p>

Senior Leah Meyer led a young Duke squad in a close match against Brigham Young.

For a young squad like the Blue Devils, opening the season against a top-10 opponent is no small task.

Despite valiant efforts from freshmen and upperclassmen alike, Duke was unable to rise to the challenge.

The Blue Devils dropped a pair of matches against No. 8 BYU this weekend at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Cougars swept Duke 3-0 (25-22, 25-19, 25-16) in the season opener Friday and followed that up with a 3-1 (16-25, 25-19, 25-22, 25-17) victory Saturday. Although freshman Ade Owokoniran sparked Duke’s offense with 12 kills in each outing and senior Leah Meyer controlled the net, the Blue Devil squad starting two freshmen struggled to hold off the Cougars’ surging offense.

“Last night was our first competition against a really good team,” Duke head coach Jolene Nagel said Saturday. “We had some nerves going on but today I was really, really excited with how we came out and fought. We made some big adjustments and the team was able to do that against a good team and the team was able to learn a lot about ourselves tonight.”

In Duke’s Friday match against BYU (2-0), the Blue Devils could not find an answer to the Cougars’ tandem of McKenna Miller and Heather Gneiting.

Duke (0-2) burst out the gates in the first set with a 6-2 lead followed by a 5-2 run to build the advantage to 11-4. However, Miller and Gneiting led the way for the Cougars to turn around with a 16-4 surge to draw the advantage 20-15. Although the Blue Devils inched within two, BYU powered ahead to take the first set 25-22.

Unfortunately for Duke, the Blue Devils did not fare much better in the next two sets.

In the second set the Cougars built up a 6-5 lead before Duke responded with six of their own—punctuated by a service ace from graduate transfer Andie Shelton. But yet again Miller and Gneiting were there to spark a 7-0 run to take control of the set. Although the Blue Devils tried to claw their way back, BYU’s dominance at the net kept Duke at bay. In the third set, the Blue Devils found themselves at a 9-6 deficit that they could not overcome, closing the frame with a 25-16 loss and landing on the wrong end of a sweep to start the season.

“[I was] really pleased with the effort, really pleased with the execution for the most part,” Nagel said. “Obviously we’ve got some things we have to work on, but the fact that this young team did that against such a strong opponent really has set some high goals for us going into the season.”

Although the Blue Devils upped the intensity in Saturday’s match, Duke was still unable to outlast BYU.

The Blue Devils rocketed out to take the advantage in the opening set. In limiting the Cougars to just a .026 hitting percentage, Duke built as much as a 12 point lead at 23-11. Although BYU attempted to mount a comeback, the Blue Devils grinded out the final two exchanges to take the set 25-16.

However, the Cougars were quick to shake off a slow start and ramped up the pressure on Duke.

Despite facing an 8-4 deficit at the start of the second frame, the Blue Devils clawed their way to a 10-10 knot thanks to timely kills from senior Leah Meyer. Although BYU tried to create separation, Duke managed to hold the Cougars within two at 20-18. However, a final 5-1 run from the visiting team capped the set to level the field at 1-1.

Although Meyer paced Duke’s offense with 11 kills and five blocks for the night, the Blue Devils could not hold off key kills from Brigham Young’s Miller, Kennedy Eschenberg and Madi Robinson. The Cougars put away a 20-18 lead in the third set to take the frame 25-22 and followed up in dominating the fourth for a 25-17 victory.

“I’m really excited for Leah to have the last two nights she has had against a strong opponent,” Nagel said. “Last night she was very steady—we wish we could’ve gotten her more balls last night—and she just played like a fourth year player. That was wonderful to see.”

The Blue Devils will return to the court Sept. 7 in Baton Rouge, La., for the Tiger Classic. There, Duke will take on South Florida, LSU and Texas A&M Corpus Christi.

“By playing these two tough matches right out of the chute we got a lot better from last night to tonight,” Nagel said. “We’re going to learn a whole lot from this match about us tonight too. I’m excited that we’ve gotten to play some really great competition early on because we’re going to learn more faster.”


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