The theme of the Blue Devils’ 2020 campaign has been a new and improved team culture, and that couldn’t have been more apparent in their fall season finale.
Duke swept Virginia Friday evening at Cameron Indoor Stadium, winning 3-0 (25-21, 25-19, 25-22). The match was originally supposed to be part of a weekend set in early October before a last-minute postponement, but that didn’t seem to affect the Blue Devils, whose sweep was their second of the Cavaliers this season.
Duke remains the only team to sweep Virginia this year, but that doesn’t mean the win came easy.
“We have been, but we’ve played some close sets with them,” Blue Devil head coach Jolene Nagel said of the team’s success against Virginia this season. “We were up by a lot in that first set [Friday] and they ended up coming way back on us in that set, and then in the third set they gave us fits to finish it off.”
Duke (6-2, 6-2 in the ACC) shot out to a 17-6 lead in that first set before the Cavaliers (1-8, 0-8) went on a 12-1 run to cut their deficit to 20-18. It was times like these that the 2019 Blue Devils may have faltered. But not this year’s squad, as Duke gritted out the 25-21 victory.
Virginia then held a slim 12-10 edge midway through the third set, by far its latest lead throughout Friday’s match after holding very early 2-1 and 1-0 leads in the first two sets. The Blue Devils continued to fight, however, eventually tying the score at 21 apiece and clinching the 25-22 win—and match sweep—on a Cavalier attack error.
“Our culture right now is so healthy,” Nagel said. “Every kid on the team is all about the team. And everyone's pushing hard in practice, so when they get an opportunity out there on the court they have confidence. So I think that the difference is we're just a more together team than we were a year ago.”
It was fitting that the match ended on a Virginia attack error, with the Cavaliers committing an astounding 22 errors on the night. The resulting 0.154 hitting percentage was a huge part of the reason the Blue Devils pulled off the sweep despite Virginia posting more kills and digs than Duke.
Another reason was the play of junior Mackenzie Cole.
The New York native came into the match with seven service aces on the year but totaled six in Friday’s match alone, a new career high.
“Six service aces in a match is really incredible,” Nagel said. “[Cole] was just serving the ball really well tonight, so that’s exciting to see. And it sure is the easiest way to get a point of them all, is to just serve an ace.”
Freshman Sydney Yap has also impressed for the Blue Devils. After totaling four digs and no assists in two appearances before last weekend’s Virginia Tech series, Yap has posted 24 digs and 52 assists over Duke’s last three matches.
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“[Yap] has a calmness about her out there,” Nagel said. “She just has a good vibe coming out from her out there, and so she's been able to step right in. And we did have an injury that prompted that two weeks ago, but we didn't skip a beat on it, which was wonderful.”
This concludes the Blue Devils’ fall season. And while the currently-approved plan has the 2021 portion of the volleyball season beginning Jan. 22, with an NCAA tournament selection date set for April 4, Nagel noted that nothing during these times is guaranteed.
Thus, the team decided to go ahead with its senior night festivities Friday. Prior to the match, Duke introduced each of its seniors, who were promptly gifted flowers from their teammates as their parents watched along on a virtual screen.
“This is such an unprecedented time, we weren't quite sure—we don't know if we’re promised tomorrow,” Nagel said. “We don’t know if we’re promised the spring, either. So we just decided to go ahead and do [senior night] this fall.”