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Duke volleyball rides efficient offensive performance to first ACC win

<p>Redshirt junior Leah Meyer has been key to Duke's success this fall.</p>

Redshirt junior Leah Meyer has been key to Duke's success this fall.

Coming off a disappointing Florida road trip last weekend, plagued by unforced errors and blown leads, Duke entered Thursday's matchup looking for its first ACC win of the season.

In fact, nearly all trace of the sloppy Duke team in Florida disappeared Friday.

Even though the Blue Devils had to battle to overcome early deficits in the first two sets, Duke went on to sweep Boston College 3-0 (25-21, 25-22, 25-17) at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The victory was largely due to an efficient night from the Blue Devil offense, which hit .350, and while Duke’s offense sparkled, Boston College’s sputtered, hitting just .127 and committing 21 attack errors.

“Last weekend was a little tough to go through, but we know we’re way better than how we played last weekend and even better than how we played tonight,” junior Leah Meyer said. “Morale is pretty high, but we’re still on the up-and-up.”

This outburst from Duke is a marked improvement from the two losses it suffered last weekend at the hands of Florida State and Miami. The Blue Devils committed 25 attack errors against Miami—they only committed 13 Friday. Duke also blew six-point leads against both the Seminoles and the Hurricanes. Nothing of the sort happened against Boston College.

Still, the beginning of Friday’s match left much to be desired from the Blue Devils. In fact, the carelessness characteristic of last weekend reappeared with a vengeance. Five attack errors and five service errors in the first set from the Blue Devils let the Eagles jump out to a four-point lead. Already, the match seemed to be falling apart for Duke, and head coach Jolene Nagel was forced to call a timeout so the team could regroup.

“Volleyball is a game where the focus has to be there, and it’s easy to lose your focus and for momentum to change so quickly,” Nagel said. “Early on, we needed to adjust our block timing, and we needed to play a little more disciplined defense. We had to come back and refocus on some of those things we needed to do a little bit better.”

After the timeout, the Blue Devils (7-5, 1-2 in the ACC) scratched and clawed their way out of the hole. A call reversal in the Duke’s favor brought the set within one point, and a kill from sophomore outside hitter Payton Schwantz tied the score at 11-11. The following points saw the Blue Devils diving all over the floor to make spectacular digs, including one 10 feet behind the baseline by freshman Mackenzie Cole that led to Duke taking a 16-14 lead. Senior Kelli Kalinoski led the Blue Devils with 12 digs on the night, helping the Blue Devils stave off the Eagles (12-3, 2-1) to take the first set.

Duke didn’t do itself any favors opening the second set either. The Blue Devils conceded an even larger initial deficit, falling behind 9-3. After another timeout by Nagel, Duke again came storming back—first with a 3-0 scoring run, and then with two 4-0 runs. Five team blocks in the set, including two crucial ones from Meyer and graduate student Andie Shelton, helped the Blue Devils secure the second set. Meyer contributed on eight blocks, and Duke totaled 13 team blocks on the night—an encouraging sign after tallying only one block against Florida State the previous weekend.

“We had a gameplan,” Meyer said. “We talked about who they’re going to give the ball to and when they’re going to give the ball to them, and we focused on that. [The credit] goes a lot to our coaches. They had us prepared well for this match, and we just executed.”

After Duke took an 18-17 lead on a thunderous Payton Schwantz kill, everything seemed to be going the Blue Devils’ way. Freshman outside hitter Ade Owokoniran hit a beautiful lob over all the Eagles players that landed perfectly on the baseline—to the disbelief of Owokoniran herself. That kill was reflective of Duke’s offense in general—it notched 48 kills on the night. Owokoniran and junior outside hitter Samantha Amos led the Blue Devils with 10 kills each, and Meyer, Schwantz and Shelton contributed eight kills to Duke’s cause as well.

After getting trounced in Florida, the Blue Devils worked hard on reducing unforced errors. This was clearly successful, as their .350 hitting percentage was the second-highest on the season and Shelton and Amos didn’t commit a single attack error. With each set, Duke attacks found the ground with higher and higher frequency.

“We had a tough week of practice, to be honest,” Nagel said. “There were a lot of repetitions with the setters and the hitters, trying to make sure we were connecting, so that’s exciting to see that that happened for us.”

The Eagles’ offensive front struggled, as kills leader Cat Balido hit a dismal .074 and recorded eight kills. As a whole, an exhausted Boston College squad declined as the match progressed, hitting .061 in the final set. On the other hand, Duke improved throughout the match, hitting a dominant .423 in the third set en route to the sweep.

Duke will have only a day's rest before it hosts Syracuse Sunday at 1 p.m. at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Blue Devils will look to build on their first ACC win against the Orange but must not slip back into the error-prone squad they were in Florida.

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