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Duke volleyball hopes to hold ACC position with battles looming against teams right behind

<p>Duke volleyball snuck into the NCAA tournament after knocking off a top-five Pittsburgh squad at home.</p>

Duke volleyball snuck into the NCAA tournament after knocking off a top-five Pittsburgh squad at home.

Coming off a road victory against Notre Dame, the Blue Devils are looking to maintain their position in the ACC rankings as they host two conference opponents this weekend that are struggling at the bottom of the conference.

Duke will host Clemson at 6:30 p.m. Friday and Georgia Tech at 1 p.m. Sunday at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Blue Devils saw standout performances last weekend from graduate student Andie Shelton and Sophomore Payton Schwantz. Shelton garnered her third triple-double of the season, highlighted by a game-winning kill, and Schwantz notched her sixth double-double. While Duke ultimately pulled out a strong victory, the Blue Devils struggled to maintain momentum, dropping two straight sets before allowing the Irish to extend the match to five. 

“It was a big win for us. Every win on the road in the ACC is wonderful to get because it’s not easy—the teams are all very competitive,” head coach Jolene Nagel said. “If, on any given night, the team doesn’t bring its A game, it’s going to be hard to win. We were disappointed in how we competed on Friday night [vs. Louisville]…going into Sunday for us, we needed a solid performance to be successful against a skilled Notre Dame team.”  

Duke (8-7, 2-4 in the ACC) continues to benefit from strong play on the backline by freshman libero Mackenzie Cole and senior Kelli Kalinoski, who combined for 32 digs in the Blue Devils’ last outing. Senior Leah Meyer was also a force at the net, totaling 13 kills while hitting .429. She also matched her career high with 11 blocks. 

The Tigers (10-9, 1-5) are also coming off a strong performance, sweeping Virginia Tech for their first ACC win. Clemson tagged its second-best hitting performance of the season at .369. Redshirt-sophomore Brooke Bailey led all Clemson hitters for the second consecutive match, tying the match-high with 12 kills, while hitting a blistering .526. 

The Tigers also benefitted from strong play from sophomore Alyssa Deloney and freshman setter Gabby Easton. Deloney ranks eighth overall in the ACC in hitting percentage, and registered nine kills, five blocks and hit .500 in the victory. Easton dealt 35 assists. 

“I don’t think we’re as familiar with [Clemson] as we’d like to be because we only saw them once last year,” Nagel said. “They’re well coached and have a lot of new freshman on the team. Clemson primarily depends on their outside hitters for their offense—they have a transfer from Ohio State that’s very good. They’re a team we need to make sure to prepare for.” 

Though Clemson had a dominant win over the Hokies, the team is still one of the most inexperienced teams in the conference. The Tigers roster features eight freshmen and not a single senior. This youth contributed to Clemson’s early struggle in ACC play, as the Tigers lost all their first five conference matches. 

Unlike Clemson, the Yellow Jackets (12-7, 1-5 ACC) were swept last match by the Hokies, marking Georgia Tech’s fifth conference loss. The Yellow Jackets do benefit from a more balanced roster than the Tigers, however, and are led primarily by freshman Mikaila Dowd and senior Lauren Frerking. 

Dowd tallied 11 kills and eight digs in the last match and is averaging 3.34 kills per set this season for Georgia Tech. Frerking hit .571 with a career-high nine kills, and has the second best hitting percentage on the team this season with a .392 clip. The Johns Creek, Ga., native also has 55 blocks on the season. 

“Georgia Tech depends on their outside hitters too but they have some middles that are very good—they can get the ball to them and be very effective from there,” Nagel said. “We’re going to have to really respect that and make sure we can prevent them from getting the ball to their talented middles.” 

To maintain its position in the ACC, Duke will need to fend off both Clemson and the Yellow Jackets. Both the Tigers and Georgia Tech are tied for last in the conference while the Blue Devils maintain a position one stop above. 

“It’s going to be great to be home this weekend,” Nagel said. “We’ve been working this week on our connections with our hitters, our control of the ball when we get a chance to touch it and putting the ball away when we have a chance. It should be a good weekend.” 

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