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Duke volleyball unable to maintain momentum, falls to Syracuse

<p>Sophomore Payton Schwantz led the Blue Devils in both matches over the weekend.</p>

Sophomore Payton Schwantz led the Blue Devils in both matches over the weekend.

After winning its first ACC match of the season Friday against Boston College, Duke hoped to keep rolling as it continued conference play Sunday.

On the contrary, the Blue Devils suffered their fourth defeat in their last five matches, losing to Syracuse 3-1 (25-18, 24-26, 21-25, 17-25) at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Duke began the match hot, winning the first set handily and leading the majority of the second, but the Blue Devils could not hold on. The team’s hitting percentage decreased throughout the match, starting off at .364 in the first set before dropping to .189 in the second and third, and .179 in the finale. 

“[We're] really disappointed that we allowed that to happen,” Duke head coach Jolene Nagel said. “Syracuse is a really strong team, but I think we allowed them to do that to us.”

Overall, the Blue Devils (7-6, 1-3 in the ACC) posted a hitting percentage of .226, their third-lowest output of the season, but it did not seem like they were struggling in the match’s first few sets. 

Duke jumped out to a 8-3 lead in the first behind two kills apiece from freshman Ade Owokoniran and junior Samantha Amos. The Blue Devils remained ahead throughout the entire set, winning 25-18. 

The second set looked like much of the same, with Duke riding eight Syracuse attack errors to a 17-11 advantage. But slowly, the Orange (8-4, 4-0) began to inch back. Soon enough, a block by redshirt senior Amber Witherspoon and sophomore Ella Saada tied the score at 22, and an electric kill by senior Santita Ebangwese gave Syracuse its first lead of the afternoon at 24-23. A service error by junior Kendra Lukacs knotted the score back up at 24, but kills by sophomore Yulia Yastrub and Ebangwese won the set for the Orange 26-24. 

“We got too comfortable with our leads,” Blue Devil graduate student Andie Shelton said. “We would have a lead, and then we would get comfortable and they would inch back point by point. And then once they got up to us we kind of got tense.”

Duke’s collapse in the second set was repeated nearly identically in the third, as the Blue Devils got out to an early 10-5 lead before four straight kills from freshman Polina Shemanova and Ebangwese put Syracuse within one. The Blue Devils were able to stay ahead until a block by Ebangwese and senior Jalissa Trotter gave the Orange the lead at 20-19. Syracuse eventually won the set 25-21.

“We have got to stay more steady throughout the entire match,” Nagel said. “We started out really well and everything, but just little by little some things started to break down and we have got to find a way to not allow that to happen.”

The fourth set was dominated by Syracuse, as the Orange bolted out to a 9-2 lead and never looked back. Duke started to close in late, taking five of six points to pull within 23-17. But Shemanova ended any hopes of a Blue Devil comeback, giving Syracuse the win with a kill and a service ace to end it. 

Shemanova was dominant all day for the Orange, leading the team with 25 kills. The St. Petersburg, Russia native was named ACC Freshman of the Week last Monday for her performance between Sept.17-23, and could pose a problem for Duke throughout her career.

“[Shemanova] is a very talented player and she is a young player, so we’re going to have to deal with her for a few years,” Nagel said. “We definitely need to make sure we are getting the matchups we want out there to try and slow her down a little bit.”

The Blue Devils were led by sophomore Payton Schwantz, who posted a double-double with 11 kills and 10 digs. Owokoniran followed suit with 10 kills of her own, while Shelton totaled seven kills to go along with a team-leading 13 digs and 23 assists.

“I was really excited to see our outside hitters were able to do really well today,” Nagel said. “We definitely had a lot more players going in set one than we did by the end of the day, so we want to make sure that we can sustain that.”

Duke heads north next weekend, where it’ll face off against Louisville Friday before visiting Notre Dame two days later. The Blue Devils must work on holding their early leads if they wish to snap out of their current slump.

“We are really going to focus on being competitive in practice and working on finishing and getting into tight situations and staying calm,” Shelton said. “For future games, we just need to work on being comfortable in uncomfortable situations.”

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