With Hurricane Florence disrupting the remaining portion of the Blue Devils’ non-conference slate, Duke is now being ushered into ACC play two games early.
The Blue Devils will travel to Florida this week to take on Florida State at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Tully Gym in Tallahassee, Fla., before going to Coral Gables to play Miami at 2 p.m. Sunday at the James L. Knight Sports Complex. Duke has not played a game since Sept. 8, when ETSU snapped the team's six-game win streak. Before that, the Blue Devils had won 11 straight sets behind standout play from freshman Ade Owokoniran and redshirt junior Leah Meyer.
Owokoniran has gotten off to a spectacular start for the Blue Devils, leading the team in kills with 102. Meyer has also played an important role, pacing Duke in points and blocks per set with 111.5 and 1.21 respectively.
“It was certainly disappointing last year when we couldn’t have [Meyer] all season,” head coach Jolene Nagel said. “She has done a great job on the court for us this year offensively and defensively—just playing like a senior. We’re very grateful for that. To have her out there and healthy does really help our team a lot.”
The Blue Devils (6-3) have also benefitted from the addition of graduate transfer Andie Shelton, who is one of only seven players nationally to have tagged two or more triple-doubles this season. She was also named ACC Player of the Week, the first time a Duke player has received that accolade since 2016 when the recognition went to outside hitter Jordan Tucker.
On the defensive side, freshman MacKenzie Cole and sophomore Payton Schwantz currently lead the team with 4.42 and 2.68 digs per set respectively. Schwantz shined in the Blue Devils’ match-up with the Seminoles last season, tagging a career-high 19 kills in Duke’s 3-1 loss.
The Seminoles (4-6) return two key players that stood out last year against the Blue Devils—senior Brianne Burkert and sophomore Taryn Knuth. Burkert tagged 20 digs last year to anchor the Florida State backline and Knuth had a team-high nine digs in the victory.
“We’re going to have to execute—there’s no doubt about it. They’re a very good team when they’re in system so we’re going to have to execute ourselves,” Nagel said. “They’re going to give us an idea right away of what the ACC is going to look like this year. We’re going to have to go after it to be successful.”
Burkert was dominant for the Seminoles last season, tallying 927 assists and 8.50 assists per set,— the most by a FSU player since 2008. As a setter and a hitter, she became the first in Seminole history to record multiple triple-doubles in a season. This season, Bukert has already tallied 238 assists.
The Hurricanes (4-3) are a young team compared to both Duke and Florida State, with seven new freshmen and one junior transfer. While Miami made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament last season, the Hurricanes lost a great majority of their firepower due to the graduation last season of ACC Player of the Year Olga Strantzali.
Even though Miami is not the same team it was last season, the Hurricanes are still benefitting from strong performances from its returners. Redshirt sophomore Elizaveta Lukianova tagged a career-high 17 kills against Florida Atlantic earlier this season and junior transfer Bridget Wallenberger leads the team in hitting percentage with a .385 mark.
“It’s a big weekend. These are our first two ACC matches and both are very strong opponents. This is always a difficult trip because Miami and Tallahassee are not close together and they’re both really good teams,” Nagel said. “But I’m excited to see what this team can do. I really like this team. I like how they interact together, work together—they have a really good vibe about them. I’m excited to see us get started in the ACC.”
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With the Blue Devils hitting the road this weekend, it will mark the first time since the 2012 season that Duke begins its ACC slate outside of the comforts of Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Blue Devils will look to finish better than last season in the ACC standings, when they tied for eighth.