Duke had a tough start to its season, opening with consecutive losses to then-No. 20 South Carolina and Northwestern and also suffering back-to-back defeats at the hands of No. 10 Tennessee and No. 19 Kentucky.
“We played a lot of good teams early, and honestly I don’t think we were fully prepared,” head coach Ramsey Smith said of the early struggles.
However, Smith did say the latest of those early losses—the 4-3 loss at Kentucky Feb. 7—began to shift the momentum of the season, with that shift leading to two dominant wins against East Tennessee State and Furman this past weekend.
“I feel like the Kentucky match was actually a turning point, even though we lost the match,” Smith said. “We just need to start building momentum, which we haven’t been able to do this year until this weekend."
Duke (4-4) defeated East Tennessee State 5-2 Friday before sweeping Furman 7-0 Sunday. The Blue Devils dropped just two total games in Sunday’s doubles contests, with five out of the six singles matches ending in straight set victories for Duke.
Freshman Andrew Dale particularly impressed, taking down East Tennessee State’s Dylan Bednarczyk and Furman’s Emil Westling without giving up a set and losing no more than two games in any single set.
“I’ve been maintaining a very focused mindset in practice,” Dale said. “I’m the type of player who has the ability to go out and make 100 balls in a row, and I think keeping that mentality going into matches has really helped."
Dale credits a combination of consistent-shot making and knowing when to be aggressive for his recent success, and says that creating longer points actually helps him be more aggressive and put the ball away.
The Virginia native shared in the Blue Devils’ early season struggles, falling to Kentucky’s Yasha Zemel in straight sets. However, he described the difficult start as actually being beneficial to himself and the team.
“I think having a tough start to the season was probably something that’s gonna help us in the long run,” Dale said. “We realized after [ITA Kickoff Weekend] that we had a lot of work to do and it wasn’t gonna be smooth sailing, especially going into ACC [play].”
So what did the squad have to do to right the ship? Again, Dale returned to his earlier theme of a mindset shift.
“We’ve really changed our mindset going into these matches, and I think having a really work-heavy [mindset] is something that’s really helped us as a team,” Dale said. “And it's also helped Coach in his ability to help us.”
Be it hard work, a new and improved mindset, or valuable experience from some tough early losses, one thing is abundantly clear: Duke has found its footing as a team and is starting to produce clear results on the court. The Blue Devils will try to keep the momentum going in their ACC opener Feb. 26 at Georgia Tech.
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