Down two sets with the score tied 24-24, Duke was locked into serve receive, determined to turn the game around and pull off its second conference win.
Unfortunately for the Blue Devil fans in attendance, the squad couldn’t mount the comeback.
The Duke volleyball team kicked off conference play this weekend, sweeping Boston College 3-0 (25-14, 25-20, 25-20) Friday while falling to Syracuse 0-3 (22-25, 18-25, 25-27) Sunday afternoon, with the latter game marking the team’s first home loss in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
“Hopefully we can make it a valuable learning experience for us,” head coach Jolene Nagel said.
After trailing throughout the third set, a shift in momentum and three kills by senior Ade Owokoniran put the Blue Devils (10-3, 1-1 in the ACC) ahead of Syracuse 25-24. Orange middle blocker Marina Markova, who led the Orange with 18 kills, tied the set once again with a powerful crosscourt swing. A controversial call on Owokoniran’s shot down the line was followed by frustration, forcing the Blue Devils into a timeout. Markova came out of the timeout with a kill, ending the final set at 25-27.
But before Duke’s fate was sealed, it was a match full of long plays and hard swings from both sides.
Owokoniran led the Blue Devils offensively against Syracuse with 11 kills, followed by sophomore Georgia Stavrinides who tallied an impressive seven. With zero errors, Stavrinides hit an incredible .538 hitting percentage, a season-high for the middle blocker.
The team found trouble on the service line, accumulating a total of five service errors throughout the first set.
“I think we need to serve a little tougher,” Nagel said after the game.
In addition to the subpar serving, the back row saw a relentless performance from libero Mackenzie Cole, who totaled 17 digs.
Senior setter Alex Springate created prime opportunities for hitters throughout the game, dishing a total of 26 assists. Nagel’s squad, however, had trouble holding onto runs, and fell to Syracuse 22-25 in the first set.
“I think we didn’t do a great job of getting momentum on our side when we did get a side out…. I feel like I have seen our team execute a bit better,” Nagel said.
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Like the first, the second set was a hard fought battle for the Blue Devils. Syracuse (12-2, 1-1) took advantage of its hitters to total 20 kills throughout the set. Stavrinides changed the momentum of the set with four powerful kills and a block to make it 9-6 and give Duke a chance, however this was not enough to carry the Blue Devils to the end as Syracuse’s Polina Shemanova ended the set 18-25 with a kill.
The weekend ended on a sour note, but the Blue Devils kicked off the games with their first conference game Friday, dominating Boston College (11-5, 1-1) in straight sets. The team was in control offensively throughout the game and opened with an astounding 0.44 kill percentage in the first set while holding its opponents to -0.11 in the second. Alex Springate tallied 27 assists, making it possible for hitters Rylie Kadel and Gracie Johnson to command the net. Kadel, a freshman, led the team with 11 kills and only two errors to hit .500, marking a high in her college career so far in games she has taken five or more attempts.
The squad’s perseverance and chemistry on the court was unmistakable, with no player chasing down a ball without the others trailing closely behind. Not only have the team’s seniors and graduate students been playmakers on the court, but according to Nagel, they have been essential for establishing this culture and getting the team to where they are at this point in the season. With only two ACC matches played, Nagel sees the game against Syracuse as a valuable learning experience for the trials ahead.
The Blue Devils play their next two conference games this weekend, facing off against Pittsburgh on Friday and Virginia on Sunday.