Duke has struggled all year with maintaining consistency, and this past weekend was no different.
The Blue Devils defeated Clemson Friday 3-0 (25-16, 25-17, 25-14) before falling to Georgia Tech 3-1 (25-22, 26-24, 23-25, 25-20) Sunday at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Duke looked dominant in its sweep of the Tigers but was completely outplayed by the Yellow Jackets, giving up early leads in each of the three sets the Blue Devils lost.
“We always talk about trying to bring our A game, and you need to for every match,” Duke head coach Jolene Nagel said. “On any given day it could go either way, and I do not feel like we did a good job of being mentally tough.”
The weekend started off on a positive note, as sophomore Payton Schwantz led the Blue Devils’ (9-8, 3-5 in the ACC) thrashing of Clemson (10-11, 1-7 in the ACC) with 12 kills and seven digs. Duke began the match hot, jumping out to a 10-4 early lead and finishing off the first set with a 25-16 win. The Blue Devils totaled 15 kills without a single error en route to a .625 hit percentage during the set.
“I just think we really executed,” sophomore Payton Schwantz said. “Things kind of went our way a lot of times. [We] just kind of went with the flow.”
A back-and-forth second set went into a media timeout with Duke holding a slight 15-12. But, after the stoppage it was all Blue Devils, as Duke won four of the next five points to bolt out to a 19-13 advantage before taking the set 25-17.
The Blue Devils had no trouble carrying their dominance over into the third set, completing the sweep handily with a 25-14 victory. Duke finished the night with a .383 hit percentage compared to the Tigers’ pitiful .031.
Sunday’s match against Georgia Tech (13-8, 2-6 in the ACC), however, was a different story. The Blue Devils held the lead for nearly the entire first set before a kill from junior Kodie Comby tied the score at 22. Duke called a timeout to try and slow the Yellow Jackets’ comeback, but to no avail. A kill from freshman Mikaila Dowd on the very next play gave Georgia Tech its first lead of the match before another Comby kill gave Georgia Tech the 25-23 win.
“I think we had some good starts,” Nagel said. “But I also think the tempo of the match—there was a lot of time between points. And I do not feel like we did a good job mentally trying to sustain the focus that we needed to be able to finish.”
The second set seemed as if it was a mere copy of the first. The Blue Devils were ahead nearly the entire way, at one point holding a 19-12 edge. But the Yellow Jackets marched back yet again, taking its first lead of the set at 22-21 and eventually winning 26-24.
Duke led once again in the third set, with a Schwantz service ace pitting the Blue Devils ahead 14-11. However, Georgia Tech responded and was close to stealing the set, coming back to take a 19-17 lead. But Duke was able to close it out, riding an 8-4 run the rest of the way to take the set 25-23.
“We adjusted our block and our defense a little bit in that third set,” Nagel said. “It did work for us and I think moving forward for us we got to continue to try and work on our consistency.”
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The Blue Devils were not able to continue that third-set success into the fourth, however. Duke again darted out to an early edge at 12-10, but a quick 4-0 run by the Yellow Jackets gave them a lead it would never relinquish. Not long after, a miscommunication by Duke’s offense on the match’s final play clinched both the set and the match for Georgia Tech—the Blue Devils were outhit .224 to .317 throughout the afternoon. Despite the loss, Schwantz had another solid performance, leading the Blue Devils with 18 kills.
“Payton’s carrying a big load right now for sure,” Nagel said. “We need to keep her going and we just need to bring some others along as well.”
Duke will head west to battle Wake Forest Wednesday before traveling to Blacksburg, Va. for a matchup with Virginia Tech next Sunday. The Blue Devils must work on performing at a top level night-in and night-out if they hope to maintain their standing in a crowded ACC.
“Consistency...just getting that gel together,” Schwantz said of what the team must improve upon looking forward. “Since we are more of a younger team it would be best to kind of work on that. Just finding our flow—our competitive edge.”