It’s no secret that Duke's season has been a mixed bag so far.
While the Blue Devils appear to have the talent and attitude of a winning team, they have been repeatedly unable to bring down their ACC opponents.
Duke’s season continued its downward spiral after a winless weekend. Friday, No. 25 Louisville made quick work of the Blue Devils in a 3-0 (25-21, 25-17, 25-14) victory at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Then Sunday, Duke made a valiant effort to take down Notre Dame, but couldn’t keep up and lost 3-1 (24-26, 25-22, 25-27, 18-25). The Blue Devils dropped to 1-5 in ACC play, continuing Duke's disappointing season.
“We’re very close to doing some really great things,” said Blue Devil head coach Jolene Nagel. “Unfortunately, we had about a three week period where we didn’t have everybody. We played some really tough competition and we are a relatively young team. I think that can really do a number on a team’s confidence.”
Duke came into this weekend fresh off of its first ACC win against Syracuse, which was a much needed victory. However, the Blue Devils would face quite the challenge in taking on Louisville and Notre Dame - teams that were undefeated in conference play.
The Cardinals held nothing back Friday. Duke tried to hold on for as long as possible, making it a close first set, losing by only four points. If there was ever a point that the Blue Devils could have turned it around, it was late in that first set, as after that it was utter Louisville domination.
"I thought we fought hard in set one and in set two, but I didn’t feel like we did so much in set three and that was disappointing,” Nagel said.
Duke had to move on from this loss to the Cardinals quickly and gear up for another skilled opponent in Notre Dame. The Blue Devils looked like a completely different team against Notre Dame, looking far more aggressive than they had been before and battling out every point.
For much of the match, Duke played just as well, if not better than the Fighting Irish. With few errors, good teamwork, and communication the Blue Devils played with an intensity and energy that seemed to be lost in the past few weeks, but ultimately Duke could not pull out its second ACC win.
Blue Devil leading scorer Payton Schwantz did all she could to help her team, notching a double-double with 15 kills and 15 digs and attacking the net at any opportunity.
In a way, this aggression is a product of the team’s losing record.
"At this point, I think we have nothing to lose," Schwantz said. "I think we can only build from here, so I think the pressure should have been off individually. I hope each player felt that.”
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Another silver lining for Duke was its defense at the net, where setter Camille Nazor and middle blocker Lily Cooper put on a clinic in the third set. Combining for 7 blocks, they shut down a slew of Fighting Irish attacks, helping to give Duke a 24-22 lead. However, the clutch gene was once again missing for Duke and they lost the set 25-27, putting one more nail in the coffin.
While this weekend ultimately served as another disappointment for the Blue Devils, they can move forward with confidence that they can hold their own against the best of the ACC. If Duke can find some consistency among the chaos of ACC play, they can start to turn things around and begin a new chapter.