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Joanne P. McCallie's tenure at Duke: Early ACC dominance

McCallie dominated the ACC over her first six seasons at Duke, but couldn't get over that final hump.
McCallie dominated the ACC over her first six seasons at Duke, but couldn't get over that final hump.

This fall, a new era will dawn for Duke women’s basketball. But before we officially move on, The Chronicle will take a walk through Joanne P. McCallie’s 13-year tenure in Durham. First up: the program's early ACC domination from 2007 to 2013.

McCallie had big shoes to fill when Duke hired her to replace the great Gail Goestenkors in April 2007. And over the course of her first six seasons, she did not disappoint.

The California native won 82 games during her first three years in Durham, the second-most wins by a coach during their first three seasons at a Division 1 program. Starting in the 2009-10 season, McCallie led Duke to four consecutive ACC regular-season titles and four straight Elite Eight appearances, taking home three ACC tournament crowns during that same time period. The Blue Devils went 122-19 during those four years, including a 56-6 conference mark.

That's not to say everything was perfect, though. During McCallie's inaugural 2007-08 season, Duke finished with its most losses since the 1996-97 campaign, eventually falling in the Sweet Sixteen to Texas A&M. 

The team improved the next year, even earning a No. 1 seed in the 2009 NCAA tournament. But the Blue Devils drew an unlucky draw in the second round with ninth-seeded Michigan State—McCallie's former team—in East Lansing, Mich. Duke lost 63-49, the program's first second-round exit since the aforementioned 1996-97 season.

From there, however, McCallie's run of ACC dominance began.

The Blue Devils tore through the 2009-10 campaign, winning the ACC regular-season title and reeling off three consecutive victories to take the conference tournament championship as well. McCallie earned ACC Coach of the Year honors and looked prime for a deep NCAA tournament run, potentially even a berth in the Final Four.

But then Duke ran into Brittney Griner and the Baylor Lady Bears. Griner posted 15 points, 11 rebounds and nine blocks, leading fourth-seeded Baylor past the second-seeded Blue Devils in the Elite Eight. It was a disappointing end to a groundbreaking season, a bitter finish that would make next year's team hungrier than ever before.

Duke's 2010-11 squad dominated the ACC once again, taking home both the ACC regular-season and tournament championships for the second consecutive season. But this team was no longer focused on those kinds of accolades

The Blue Devils survived the first three rounds of the NCAA tournament before facing the mightiest obstacle of them all—Maya Moore and top-ranked Connecticut. The Huskies obliterated Duke 75-40, handing McCallie her second-straight Elite Eight defeat.

While postseason aspirations were certainly on the forefront of every Blue Devil campaign at this point moving forward, the 2011-12 regular season did feature the emergence of Duke's next all-time great: Elizabeth Williams. The 6-foot-3 center led the Blue Devils with 14.0 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.5 blocks per game, taking home National Freshman of the Year honors and her first of four ACC Defensive Player of the Year awards.

Meanwhile, Duke won its third straight ACC regular-season title, and despite a surprising quarterfinal exit in the conference tournament, the Blue Devils entered the NCAA tournament with a world of confidence behind them.

But when it came down to it, the magic just wasn't there. For the third consecutive year, Duke's Final Four dreams were squandered with just one game to go, this time at the hands of Nneka Ogwumike and the Stanford Cardinal.

The Blue Devils' 2012-13 campaign finally seemed like the year it was going to happen—the team lost just two total games prior to the NCAA tournament, bringing home conference regular-season and tournament titles yet again. Point guard Chelsea Gray earned a share of the ACC Player of the Year award, and McCallie took home her second ACC Coach of the Year trophy as a Blue Devil. 

When it came time to prove itself, however, Duke just couldn't get it done, with Skylar Diggins and Notre Dame providing the heart-wrenching blow

In the end, it's hard to fault McCallie or the Blue Devils for not making that final push to championship weekend. Each year came yet another national powerhouse, armed with yet another one of the country's top players, in their way. After a major coaching change, remaining the team to beat in the ACC is certainly nothing to complain about.

But for a Duke program that was known for a string of Final Four runs over the previous decade with Goestenkors at the helm, it's tough for fans to not feel like they were left wanting more, especially with the frustrating seasons about to come.


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