Last season, Duke entered the ACC tournament as the No. 1 seed and fell to arch-rival and No. 2 seed North Carolina in the championship. This season, the Blue Devils will be looking to return the favor and spoil the top-seeded Tar Heels’ dream season.
Duke earned the No. 2 seed by finishing the regular season on an 11-match win streak and dominating most of their ACC competition. The Blue Devils’ only conference loss and both of their losses on the year have come at the hands of North Carolina. Duke will start tournament play on Friday at 5 p.m. against the winner of No. 7 seed Notre Dame and No. 10 Virginia at Cary Tennis Park in Cary, N.C. after the Blue Devils earned a double bye into the quarterfinals.
“It has been a great regular season,” Duke head coach Jamie Ashworth said. “One of the most successful as far as wins and losses go that we’ve had in my time at Duke, but I still think we have a lot to prove. I think that our team realizes that and is hungry to show that.”
The Blue Devils (21-2, 13-1 in the ACC) had a bit of trouble with the Fighting Irish (13-11, 5-9 ACC) in their one meeting this season. The team rallied from a 2-1 deficit on the road to come away with a 4-3 victory behind a 6-1, 0-6, 6-2 victory from the current No. 11 player in the country, Maria Mateas.
Virginia offered little resistance in its one matchup as Duke rolled to a 6-1 triumph over the then No. 22 Cavaliers (16-7, 8-6 in the ACC). Dominant singles performances from Mateas and Kaitlyn McCarthy set the tone for the match.
“Virginia is very good and kind of in the same situation as we are; they’re hungry too,” Ashworth said. “They’re young and they want to show they’re one of the top-15 teams in the country.”
A win on Friday would likely bring a matchup against third-seeded Florida State Saturday afternoon. The Seminoles (19-5, 11-3 ACC) enter the ACC tournament on a three-match winning streak including a road win over then-No. 10 N.C. State that gave them the tiebreak for the third seed.
The Blue Devils and Florida State squared off in Tallahassee earlier this season with Duke emerging with a 5-2 victory in its first ACC road match. The Blue Devils dropped the doubles point but bounced back with an impressive singles performance especially from current No. 25 Meible Chi and No. 27 Kelly Chen.
“We’d welcome whoever we’re playing this weekend as long as we’re still playing,” Ashworth said. “Every match that we play is a big match because we’re a part of that match. We’re going to get someone’s best shot whether it be Virginia or Florida State or Notre Dame or whoever it is and we’re going to give our best shot as well.
But the possible matchup that everyone has circled would be a rematch of last year’s ACC championship and would come in the championship Sunday again. Duke vs. North Carolina for the third time this season, but this time with the ACC title on the line. The No. 1 seeded Tar Heels (26-1, 14-0 ACC) have blitzed through the regular season with their lone loss coming to the No. 1 team in the country, Georgia.
The Blue Devils have been dealt humbling losses by North Carolina twice this season, first a 4-0 setback in the semifinals of ITA Indoor National Championships and then a 4-1 loss in Chapel Hill during ACC play. Duke wants the opportunity to avenge those defeats and keep the Tar Heels from claiming their fourth straight ACC tournament championship.
“I know deep down we would love another chance at UNC,” Ashworth said. “And if that happens we’ll definitely be ready.”
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The Blue Devils have already secured their place in the NCAA tournament and will almost certainly host the first two rounds in Durham, but Duke is not resting on its laurels and wants to prove it can compete at the highest level in the country.
“We’ve talked a lot in the past couple weeks about not playing to our opponents, but playing to a standard,” Ashworth said. “Whether it’s on the court with drills we’re doing, whether it’s in match play with our conditioning, that’s what’s going to prepare us for this weekend and beyond this weekend. I really believe we’re playing up to that standard at this point in the year and for the first time, consistently up to that standard."