After dropping both of its first two matches, Duke was looking to turn its young season around and inspire confidence in its inexperienced roster before reaching ACC play.
A full sweep at the Tiger Classic this weekend in Baton Rouge, La., did just that.
The Blue Devils defeated South Florida 3-1 (25-21, 25-12, 24-26, 25-18) Friday morning before beating the hosts, LSU, 3-1 (25-15, 20-25, 25-22, 25-21) later that evening at the Maravich Center. Duke then took on Texas A&M Corpus Christi Saturday afternoon and pulled out a five-set 3-2 victory (24-26, 26-24, 19-25, 25-10, 15-9). Each game featured a standout performance from a new member of Duke’s roster, including a triple-double performance from graduate transfer Andie Shelton versus the Bulls, three 20-dig performances by freshman Mackenzie Cole and a 28-kill showing from freshman Ade Owokoniran against the Islanders.
“I’ve been telling our team that it seems over the past five matches that at different times we’ve had people step up to make key plays for us,” head coach Jolene Nagel said. “Everyone else followed after that, getting great points or making stops. It’s not always the same person doing that for us, which I think is really ideal for a team.”
In the opening match of their trip, the Blue Devils (3-2) handily defeated South Florida (5-1), dropping only the third set 24-26 to force a fourth with the Bulls. The first set was back and forth, with Duke and South Florida knotted up at 17 apiece before two straight kills from Shelton, four subsequent errors by the Bulls and a couple of kills from Owokoniran and redshirt junior Leah Meyer sealed the set for the Blue Devils.
After Duke dominated the second set 25-12, the third set was a different story, as the Blue Devils came out to a 5-1 lead early but were unable to hold on. Four straight errors on the Duke side allowed South Florida to tie it up at five. The Blue Devils went on a 4-0 run to take the lead later 18-14 before the Bulls came back thanks to three straight kills and tied it at 21. An attack error for Duke and a kill for South Florida sealed the set for the Bulls 26-24.
Three kills from Alex Amos, Jessi Bartholomew and Lily Cooper gave Duke the 23-14 advantage in the fourth set. South Florida then came back, tallying four straight points before a kill from Shelton and a block by Shelton and Cooper gave the set to the Blue Devils, and handed the Bulls their only loss of the season.
By the end of the match, Shelton had tallied 11 kills, 27 assists and 15 digs, marking the first triple-double by a Duke player since 2006. She hit .391 on 23 attack attempts while also contributing three blocks and three service aces.
“[Shelton] has been a very consistent performer for us and a huge piece because she’s doing so many different things—she’s setting and serve receiving,” Nagel said. “She’s a versatile player, especially with that extra year. We’ve really been the beneficiaries of an experienced player in a key role—the setting role. She’s so athletic and dynamic, she can do more than just that.”
Meyer led the team with 12 kills and six blocks, with Bartholomew and Samantha Amos adding 10 kills each. The Blue Devils were dominant in this regard, putting down 61 kills total to South Florida’s 44. Freshman libero Mackenzie Cole passed the 20-dig mark for the second straight match and senior defensive specialist Kelli Kalinoski added 19.
In the second match of the doubleheader, the Blue Devils and Tigers (2-4) split the first two frames. The third set saw a 12-6 start for Duke, which quickly extended the lead to 20-12. LSU was not done yet, however, and went on a 9-2 run to bring the set to 22-21, with the Blue Devils clinging to the advantage. A kill from sophomore outside hitter Payton Schwantz gave Duke the 25-22 victory and put the team up 2-1. By the fourth set, Schwantz, Shelton and Meyer had all recorded double-digit kills, wih Schwantz leading the way with 14. Her final kill won the set 25-21 and the match 3-1 for the Blue Devils.
“It was tough. We were at the gym by 8 a.m. and played that 10 a.m. match. We didn’t have a lot of down time.... I’m really pleased with how the team responded to all of that,” Nagel said. “They have some good players, some real forces, and our team made some adjustments after the second set and continued to build momentum.”
Shelton added 23 assists and tagged her third double-double of the season, recording a .348 hitting percentage. Setter Haley Seyfarth also had a double-double with 20 assists and 10 digs. Cole tallied another 20-dig performance on the back line and the whole Duke squad limited the Tigers to a .170 hitting clip, keeping both Friday opponents under .200.
On Saturday morning, the Blue Devils were back to face a young Texas A&M Corpus Christi team. Duke was worn down and the first set started off slowly. The Blue Devils committed 20 attack errors over the first three frames and trailed 2-1 overall heading into the fourth.
Duke did not go down easily, however, storming out in the fourth set to an 18-4 lead. Texas A&M Corpus Christi (0-7) was not able to recover, only scoring six more points as the Blue Devils dominated 25-10. Duke tallied both an impressive 20 kills and a team hitting clip of .472 in the set.
The last set was similarly dominant for the Blue Devils, coming out to an 8-3 lead before winning it 15-9 and the match 3-2. Duke only committed four attack errors in the fourth and fifth frames, and freshman stand-out Owokoniran led all players with a career-high 28-kill performance. She only had four errors on 54 attack attempts, giving her a blistering .444 hitting clip for the day.
“We needed her performance today,” Nagel said. “Though she’s only been doing it on and off in the last year, she’s really learning a lot. Today, her timing was really good. The defense was struggling to stop her. She was one of those people that really came out for us today.”
Meyer also had a stellar performance, finishing with 10 kills and a .333 hitting percentage. Cooper had a match-high six blocks and Cole tagged another 21 digs to make it her fourth straight match with 20-plus digs.
The Blue Devils do not get much of a break as they return to Cameron Indoor Stadium Tuesday to host UNC Greensboro before hosting the Duke Invitational this weekend.
“The kids are tired. They worked hard,” Nagel said. “They all ended up being quality matches for us—really challenging and really testing for our team. I think we’re going to learn a lot about ourselves—not only what we can fix technically and tactically, but I think it helped the team get to know each other better out on the court.”
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