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'It's incredible': Led by Lizzie Fleming and Alex Springate, Duke volleyball knocks off Elon

Springate continued her torrid assists pace with 33 against the Phoenix.
Springate continued her torrid assists pace with 33 against the Phoenix.

For the first time since 2019, the Blue Devils hosted a roaring regular season crowd in Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Duke defeated the Elon Phoenix Tuesday night in straight sets (25-20, 25-22, 25-16) thanks to its experienced roster and astounding performances by key players.

Going into the contest, the Blue Devils were recovering from an adrenaline-filled road trip to the Coastal Carolina Invitational, where they narrowly beat Coastal Carolina 3-2 and Iowa 3-2. Those close calls with two nonconference opponents were less-than-stellar outings, but they provided the necessary urgency to come out hot against the Phoenix.

The Blue Devils' offense was led by junior blocker Lizzie Fleming, who has been a near infallible option on the net so far this season. Prior to Elon, Fleming had tallied 26 kills while committing just two errors. And to prove that her nearly faultless performances were no fluke, she recorded eight more kills against the Phoenix with no errors whatsoever.

“She works really hard,” head coach Jolene Nagel said. “It's incredible. I don't even know how many swings she's had but to only have two hitting errors in all that time. That's incredible.”

While Fleming’s consistency is a sight to behold, it wouldn’t be possible without the tireless efforts of Duke’s starting setter Alex Springate. If you take one glance at the assist column of any match this season, you’ll find almost nothing in any rows outside of hers. After Tuesday’s match, Springate accounts for 113 of Duke’s 131 assists this season.

“Springate has been working so hard,” Fleming said. “And we've really just been clicking and she's been finding me. Every kill I get, I credit it to my passer and my setters because I wouldn't be here without them.”

Although there is no debate to be had on which team had the superior showing, Elon gave Duke a run for its money in the second set. 

Due to a long string of errors, the Blue Devils found themselves down 18-11 and it looked very likely that the match would be stretched to four or five sets. But due to some well-timed substitutions by Nagel, Duke made a drastic momentum shift, pulling off an 8-1 run. 

The players who took the floor in the darkest hour of the second set were none other than Fleming and Springate, as well as senior middle blocker Lily Cooper. 

“Lizzie had a really great weekend last weekend and so did Alex and Lily,” Nagel said. “It just gave us a little bit more experience out there at that time in the set when we really wanted to not let it get away from us.”

The veteran trio was a well-oiled machine. Cooper would either block or tip every ball on the net. Springate would sprint or dive to make an acrobatic set. And finally, Fleming would levitate and knock the ball into a gap in Elon’s formation. 

By the time the final set rolled around, Elon’s shot at victory was paper-thin. The Phoenix had spent the last of their fight in the second set and was deflated coming out of the gate. While they put up enough points in the third set to amass a respectable final score, the ending of this story had been written about 15 minutes prior.

Looking forward, Duke has a long nonconference schedule to get through before ACC play begins in late September. The Blue Devils will need to clean up their errors in the coming weeks against stronger opponents, but their first home game proved that their experienced players are more than capable of leading the charge.

“As long as we can keep making progress, I'll be really excited,” Nagel said.

Duke’s next match is against Howard Friday at 10 a.m., once again in Cameron Indoor Stadium.


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