With the end of 2018 quickly approaching, The Chronicle's sports department takes a look back at the biggest sports stories of the year. Each day, The Blue Zone will review a major game, event or storyline that helped shape the course of the year in Blue Devil athletics.
Coming in at No. 10 on our list: Duke volleyball uses signature regular-season upset of No. 5 Pittsburgh to advance to the NCAA tournament for the first time in five seasons.
The last time Duke competed in the NCAA tournament was in 2014, so the Blue Devils, especially the seniors, had an itch to make a 20th appearance for Duke this year.
The Blue Devil volleyball team had a mix of unexpected losses and great wins this season. On one end of the spectrum, they lost against Tobacco Road rival North Carolina. But on the other end, the team managed to sneak in a huge victory against No. 5 Pittsburgh, a team which had gone undefeated before Duke silenced its winning streak.
Defeating Pittsburgh was a massive momentum boost for the team. At that point in the season, the Blue Devils were on fire, with three consecutive wins. However, beating a top-five team still seemed like a longshot, and the start of that match would support that claim. The Panthers closed out the first set with a seven-point lead, an outcome that looked as if it would follow through the coming sets.
The second set was where the tone of the game changed, as the Blue Devils brought much more momentum to the court and showed their growth throughout the season. A tight back-and-forth affair eventually led to a 26-24 victory for Duke. The Blue Devils badly wanted the win and fought hard on the court until the long battle ended in two more winning sets.
Moving forward, the Blue Devils carried the win against Pittsburgh, even after they later lost against the Panthers at their home, and hoped the resume-builder would earn them a spot in the NCAA tournament.
On the night the bid was announced, the team gathered around and watched as each team that would appear at Stanford's Maples Pavilion was called. Graduate student Andie Shelton had even driven all the way from California to be there with her team when they received the news. Upon watching “Duke” pop up as Loyola Marymount’s opponent in the first round, the room was filled with cheers.
“They were just interested in hearing everything about the tournament and the different teams that were in the tournament and the different commentary that came on,” said head coach Jolene Nagel after earning the bid. “They just were ready to hear it all. I’m just so excited that they’re excited for the opportunity, they’ve worked hard to earn the opportunity and I don’t think we could be any happier right now.”
The Blue Devils entered the Stanford court with much excitement, but their efforts faltered as they got off to a slow start, losing their first set 25-16. Unable to recover against the strong serving team, Duke lost both the second and third sets, 25-22 and 25-16, respectively.
“They put pressure on us with their serve and it was difficult for us to get anything going offensively,” said Nagel following the loss. “Loyola Marymount did a great job getting us out of system and taking us out of our game.”
After the defeat at the hands of the Lions in the first round of the tournament, Duke volleyball ended the season with a 16-12 overall record.
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