Duke volleyball searching for first win of season this weekend in Louisiana

Nicole Ellatrache’s veteran presense will be missed on a freshmen-heavy Blue Devils squad in 2018.
Nicole Ellatrache’s veteran presense will be missed on a freshmen-heavy Blue Devils squad in 2018.

After dropping its first two games of the season to an experienced BYU squad, the Blue Devils hit the road looking to capture their first win.

Duke will travel to Baton Rouge, La., to take on South Florida Friday at 11 a.m. before facing LSU at 8:30 p.m. in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. The Blue Devils will then take on Texas A&M Corpus Christi at noon on Saturday. After playing a tough back-to-back last weekend, Duke’s stamina and consistency will be challenged again in its first road sting.

Duke did show its balance last weekend as freshman Ade Owokoniran and redshirt junior Leah Meyer tagged the standout performances for the Blue Devils. Sophomore Payton Schwantz also impressed with another double-double.

“I’m so glad that we played some really good competition last weekend. For both those matches, I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” head coach Jolene Nagel said. “We learned a lot about ourselves and we had to some make adjustments. It showed our team that we were capable of doing that, so that was definitely a positive.”

The Bulls (3-0) are coming off of three straight wins in their invitational. The beginning of the season was highlighted by a .299 hitting clip from redshirt senior Clara Payne. She also led USF last season with 82 block assists and 17 solo blocks.

The Tigers (1-2) are much more experienced than the Islanders, returning a great majority of their talent from last season that earned them a bid to the NCAA tournament. LSU returns four of the five top kill producers from last season, including ACVA All-American Taylor Bannister. Bannister led the team in kills last season, averaging 3.22 kills per set.

The Tigers also have experience at setter, as senior Lindsay Flory and junior Anna Zwiebel combined for more than 85 percent of LSU’s assists last season. Sophomore libero Raigen Cianciulli held down the back line, earning all-South Regional honors and averaging 4.46 digs per set for the Tigers.

“It will be good to go into LSU territory. It’s a great atmosphere—college town, I expect a good crowd,” Nagel said. “I think they have good experience and they play in the SEC so they’re playing great teams all season. It should be a challenging match and a good one for us to play. They’re going to be physical athletes with good size, playing good volleyball night in and night out.”

Duke (0-2) enters this weekend with a great opportunity to win, especially in their match-up against the Islanders. Corpus Christi graduated both its assist and set leaders from last season and is working to build up experience on a roster with eight freshmen and additional transfer students.

The Islanders (0-3) have yet to win a set this season and will look to do that in the tournament this weekend.

Though all the teams in the tournament are quite different, they all provide similar match-ups for the Blue Devils. These matches will depend heavily on the performance of the underclassmen. This is good news for Duke, as Owokoniran led the Blue Devils in kills in both of their first games of the season. Schwantz hit a .320 clip on the night with a double-double.

Duke does benefit from a very strong performance from upperclassmen also, including a blistering .588 clip from Meyer last match and a .552 hitting percentage over the weekend. She tallied an additional 18 kills and seven blocks.

“This team has been enjoyable to be around too, so I think this is going to be fun as we go prepare and focus on continuing to get better as a team,” Nagel said. “There are some things we want to do better coming off of last weekend—things we’ve been working on in practice—and we’re going to make sure those are big focuses going into this weekend. It should be a good learning experience.”


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