After missing the NCAA tournament again last season during an injury-ridden campaign, Duke will now have a unique opportunity to face a dominant team that consistently makes it to the postseason.
The Blue Devils will open their season at Cameron Indoor Stadium against No. 8 BYU Friday at 7:30 p.m. Duke will then face the Cougars again on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. After losing a lot of experience and talent from last season due to numerous graduations, the Blue Devils now feature five freshmen on their roster and will look to both develop their young players and challenge their upperclassmen.
Duke lost libero Nicole Ellatrache—who averaged 4.32 digs per set last season— in addition to outside hitter Cadie Bates—the team leader in kills last season with 376. Bates also averaged the second-highest digs per set on the Blue Devil squad with a sharp 3.17. Duke will also be without its team leader in assists per set Emma Paradiso and Anna Kropf.
The Blue Devils will rely on freshmen talent to help fill in the gaps left by graduation.
“The freshmen are doing a great job. I attribute that to our upperclassmen and how they’re trying to get everybody to come together,” head coach Jolene Nagel said. “The freshmen are working very hard and are very committed to the team.”
Duke still has quite a few weapons, including sophomore Peyton Schwantz and junior Samantha Amos—both of whom led the team in kills last season behind Bates. Schwantz is returning after a stellar freshman campaign that garnered her ACC All-Freshman honors and double-digit kills in 23 of the Blue Devils’ 31 matches.
Amos—who is now joined on the team by her sister, freshman Alex Amos—posted 12 matches last season with four or more blocks and hit .252 on 705 attack attempts.
“Alex is doing very well,” Nagel said. “There is competitiveness between the two and that’s a lot of fun and is going to continue to be a lot of fun.”
Duke also returns redshirt junior Leah Meyer from injury, who was named preseason All-ACC last year before her season was cut short after only six matches.
The stories could not be more different for the Cougars and the Blue Devils. BYU finished last season in a loss to Kentucky in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament and with an overall 30-3 record, while Duke failed to reach the NCAA tournament and won only 19 matches. A win against the Cougars this weekend would provide a much-needed boost to the Blue Devils’ resume and give a young Duke team confidence going into another competitive year.
“BYU is a really strong opponent, but that’s one of the reasons we’re playing these matches,” Nagel said. “They’ve done very well historically and they’re going to be very good again this year. We’re just excited that they’re coming to see us here in Durham.”
Leading the Cougars are a strong senior core, including setter Lyndie Haddock and outside hitter Roni Jones-Perry. Haddock averaged over 10 assists per set last season and Jones-Perry tallied 569 kills. BYU also relies heavily on junior Mary Lake, who had 533 digs last season, averaging 4.52 per set. She was also named an All-America Honorable Mention.
“We’re still working through things. We hope to be a team that continues to get better throughout the whole season—that’s obviously the goal,” Nagel said. “But we certainly are excited about what we’ve seen from this group so far.”
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.