Duke volleyball takes 2 of 3 matches in Duke Invitational

<p>The Blue Devils six-game winning streak was snapped Saturday.&nbsp;</p>

The Blue Devils six-game winning streak was snapped Saturday. 

Although head coach Jolene Nagel is working with a squad of just one consistent veteran starter, the Duke has finally begun to iron out some of the rougher parts of its play.

And as the Blue Devils continue to build momentum through their nonconference schedule, Duke is showing that it is shaping up to be a potent force in the ACC.

The Blue Devils opened their first day of the annual Duke Invitational with back-to-back 3-0 sweeps of Cincinnati (25-19, 25-16, 25-23) and Coastal Carolina (25-23, 25-17, 25-22) Friday at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Multiple members of Nagel’s squad stepped up to balance the offense, including redshirt junior Leah Meyer, who dominated the net, and sophomore Payton Schwantz, who provided several laser-accurate spikes. 

However, Duke's winning streak came to an end Saturday thanks to an aggressive Eastern Tennessee State squad taking the final match of the tournament 3-1 (25-20, 19-25, 25-15, 27-25).

“It's really exciting when you have a team come in and do that and grow every time they step on the court,” Nagel said. “This team has taken that to heart and is really trying to do that every time we step out. I didn't anticipate the day would be like this today—I knew these were strong opponents coming in—but I'm really pleased our team has taken it one point at a time and has really executed to put themselves in this position.”

In Duke’s first match of the day, the Blue Devils cruised past the Bearcats (6-2) with ease.

Schwantz contributed 12 kills in what would become one of Duke’s most efficient offensive performances of the season. The Blue Devils (6-3) hit for a season-high 39.8 percent and limited Cincinnati to sub-20 scores in the first two sets with a hitting percentage of just 19.2. Although the Bearcats mounted a close third set—knotting the frame up 20-20—contributions from Schwantz and freshman Lily Cooper helped the Blue Devils overwhelm their opponent 25-23.

Even when faced with a long day of playing, the Blue Devils looked in control as they continued into their second match of Friday. Nagel’s squad started off slow against the Chanticleers, with frequent errors on both sides of the net leading to neither team building up momentum.

Although Coastal Carolina (1-6) opened the frame with a barrage of kills to take an early advantage, frequent Chanticleer service errors kept the Blue Devils within arms-reach. Both teams struggled to take momentum, with runs regularly being undercut by back-to-back handling and net errors. In a set fraught by a total of nine ties and six lead changes, Duke didn’t find much of an advantage until back-to-back service errors on the part of the Chanticleers put the Blue Devils up 23-19. 

Still, Duke struggled to close, letting the frame reach 24-23 before it finally put the set away.

After working out most of the kinks in their first set, the Blue Devils turned to the second with a renewed intensity.

Duke immediately rocketed out to a 5-0 start, forcing the Chanticleers to burn a timeout just three minutes into play. Although Coastal Carolina tried to mount runs to stay competitive, Cooper exploded with five kills and five blocks. Compared to their paltry 8.6 hitting percentage in the first set, the Blue Devils closed the second set hitting at a 31.2 clip. Duke cruised through the frame unhindered, never once relinquishing the lead.

“We finally got our groove in,” Schwantz said. “That's honestly all that really happens. We finally start picking up on their tendencies, we adapt better. That's just how we flow usually.”

In the final set, Coastal Carolina mounted a final effort to steal a set from the Blue Devils, but ultimately, Duke prevailed.

The Chanticleers opened with an unanswered three straight kills, but the Blue Devils responded with a run of their own. From there, both teams traded runs until the frame was tied up at 22-22. A pair of attack errors on the part of the visiting team followed by a close kill from graduate student Andie Shelton pushed the Blue Devils over the edge to notch their third straight shut-out.

“One thing that Coach Fred talked to us today was making sure that we talked to one another and let each other know what's happening on the other side of the net,” Meyer said. “We were communicating a lot, and once we got a couple it just kept going. It's a game of momentum and that was really on our side today.”

Duke’s matchup against Coastal Carolina showed a degree of dominance at the net that had sometimes been lacking at earlier points in the season. The Blue Devils notched a season-high 15.5 blocks, with Meyer leading the way with nine blocks and seven kills.

“It's business,” Meyer said. “Today was a long day and we really need to take care of our bodies tonight and be able to come back tomorrow in the right mindset and prepare for tomorrow, watch some film. We're excited.”

Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, the concluding match of the Duke Invitational cut the home team's winning streak at six. 

Although freshman Ade Owokoniran contributed 14 kills through Saturday's contest, the Blue Devils were consistently outmatched by Eastern Tennessee State (8-2). Thanks to double-digit performances by Leah Clayton, AJ Lux and Kaela Massey, the Buccaneers only dropped one set to the Blue Devils after taking the first 25-20. From there, ETSU rallied with an aggressive attacking scheme to give Duke its first loss since its season opener against Brigham Young.

The Blue Devils will be back in action on Wednesday, where they will return to Cameron to take on Elon.


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