Duke volleyball falls in 3 sets in rematch at nationally-ranked Pittsburgh

<p>Leah Meyer has emerged as a consistent blocker for the Blue Devils.</p>

Leah Meyer has emerged as a consistent blocker for the Blue Devils.

The last time Pittsburgh and Duke faced off, the Blue Devils pulled off one of the season’s biggest upsets. But the team did not carry that same magic away from Durham.

The 10th-ranked Panthers handled Duke with ease in Pittsburgh Sunday, defeating the Blue Devils 3-0 (25-20, 25-17, 25-17) at Fitzgerald Field House. Pittsburgh had three players—sophomore Kayla Lund, junior Nika Markovic and redshirt junior Stephanie Williams—all record double-digit kills, as the Panthers outhit Duke .223 to .065.

“They were really in system all the time, so that made it really tough on our our block and our defense to be able to double up on anybody,” Blue Devil head coach Jolene Nagel said. “They controlled the ball with their first touch really well today, and that is what opened up their offense for them.”

The match stayed even for the majority of the first set, with Duke (14-10, 8-7 in the ACC) attempting to prove that its victory against Pittsburgh two weeks ago was no fluke. And when two consecutive Markovic attack errors gave the Blue Devils an 18-17 lead and forced the Panthers to call timeout, another upset appeared to be a possibility. But Pittsburgh (26-1, 14-1) went on a prompt 8-2 run following the intermission, with a Williams kill giving the Panthers the first-set win.

For the second set, Pittsburgh made sure the Blue Devils didn't come close. The Panthers jumped out to a quick 13-6 advantage and never looked back, holding their edge for the entirety of the set and eventually widening their match lead to 2-0 on a service ace from senior Emily Horner. Pittsburgh totaled four service aces throughout the contest and relied on a powerful serve to carry its offensive attack all afternoon.

“Pitt did a good job of serving really, really tough,” Nagel said. “I do not think we did as good a job of serving tough nor controlling that service as well as we would like to so that we could do some things we would like to offensively.”

Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, the third frame was more of the same. The Panthers bolted out to a 15-9 edge and remained ahead the rest of the way. A kill from sophomore Payton Schwantz cut Duke’s deficit to 21-17, but Pittsburgh responded with four consecutive points to complete the victory. The match ended on three straight Blue Devil attack errors.

Despite the loss, redshirt junior Leah Meyer turned heads with her performance on both sides of the ball. The Clarence, N.Y., native led Duke with eight kills—good for a .462 hitting percentage—in addition to five total blocks. Meyer entered Sunday 13th in the country with an average of 1.49 blocks per set.

“[Meyer] has done really well,” Nagel said. “It has been night in and night out—doing a really solid job for us on the block and then also offensively.”

Freshman Lily Cooper also impressed at the net, recording six blocks of her own. Outside of the electric Lund/Markovic/Williams trio, the Panthers were anchored by 18 assists from senior Kamalani Akeo and six blocks from sophomore Chinaza Ndee.

Duke will now return home in preparation for its second matchup against Tobacco Road rival North Carolina next Saturday. Although the Blue Devils did not come out with the upset win Sunday, they hope to use their experience playing the ACC’s top team to push through the final portion of the regular season.

“We are just going to have to study some of this a little bit and use it to make ourselves better—really stay focused on just trying to get the next one,” Nagel said. “We have three big matches left in the ACC.... I just anticipate us to play our best volleyball yet, so that is what we are going to be working to try to do.”


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