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Duke volleyball falls to No. 1 Louisville, bounces back against Syracuse

Mackenzie Cole had 20 digs against Syracuse.
Mackenzie Cole had 20 digs against Syracuse.

Duke went into Sunday’s match against Syracuse having lost its previous match against the Orange in September, as well as its most recent two matches. After a hard-fought loss to Boston College and a definitive loss against the No. 1 team in the country Friday, the Blue Devils needed to show just how good their squad can be. 

They were down by nine points against Syracuse in the first set. Back-to-back kills by Syracuse’s Marina Markova led Duke head coach Jolene Nagel to call a timeout—her second and last of the set. 

“I was really just trying to get them to understand that we were able to play much better than we were and that we had to start going after it rather than kind of letting [Syracuse] come at us,” Nagel said of the timeout she called. 

But then Duke went on a 10-1 run and won the set. After another three sets, they’d come out of the match victorious. 

That’s what they can do. And it all started with the right mindset. 

“It’s almost like we had a different attitude when we went out there,” Nagel reflected. “We put our foot to the gas pedal and said ‘let’s go.’” 

Duke bested Syracuse in four sets on the road Sunday (25-20, 21-25, 25-20, 25-18) after falling Friday to No. 1 Louisville—the only undefeated team in the country—in Louisville, Ky., (12-25, 16-25, 15-25). 

The Cardinals (26-0, 16-0) hit an outstanding .547 percent on Friday with 34 kills. The Blue Devils (16-12, 7-10 in the ACC) struggled at the net, hitting .028 with 21 errors and earning only one block during the match. Duke’s play was generally sloppy, losing jousts for the ball at the net and sending Louisville overpasses on serve receive that the Cardinals happily slammed back on Duke’s side of the court. 

Anna Stevenson led the Louisville offense with 10 kills and a .600 efficiency, using slides behind the setter and tips to the middle of Duke’s court that the Blue Devil defense couldn’t pick up. Stevenson played a large role in shutting down Duke’s pin hitters with three blocks during the match. 

The tide turned Sunday, though, as Duke was able to set the tone from the service line and significantly improve its passing on serve receive. The Blue Devils had 10 aces against Syracuse (17-13, 6-12), two of which came from junior setter Camille Nazor during their nine-point comeback in the first set. 

After that comeback, Duke didn’t carry its momentum into the second set. The Orange picked up momentum in the middle of the set after two big blocks, and on top of adjusting their play, the Blue Devils had to adjust their mentality once again. 

“We started to get into that mentality of scrambling and making things happen for ourselves, but I do think our offense took a bit of a dip there in the second set, and we had to figure out how to get that going again,” Nagel said. 

Nagel attributed Duke’s success in winning scramble plays to working together as a team and playing with heart. She commended Duke’s performance at the net during these plays, noting how setting up solid, well-placed blocks helped the defense get touches on attacks from Syracuse. 

“You'd think that would be something we do all the time, which I think we do, but I think somehow in that at the end of that first set and moving forward, especially in sets three and four, I think we took it much more to heart to have how much we would have to work to get through that match,” Nagel said. 

Senior libero Mackenzie Cole lit up the back row for Duke with 20 digs, one of her highest numbers this season. On top of being a “spectacular” libero for the Blue Devils, to Nagel, the leadership Cole, a captain, brought to the floor this weekend and throughout the season has been just as important. 

“She really sets the tone for commitment and work ethic and being a team player; she just means the world to our team,” Nagel said. 

Duke’s aggressive serving and strategic blocking were vital on Sunday, but ultimately, the win was a team effort at Syracuse. 

“They were doing exactly what they were supposed to be doing—not only on the court, but on the sideline, we had full engagement from everybody so that we could make adjustments and they were able to execute when they got in there,” Nagel said. “So it was a great team effort and really exciting.” 

Nagel hopes to carry that energy into Duke’s senior night and last regular season game Friday against North Carolina at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Blue Devils will be in Durham this week practicing, honing in on defense and how to shut down the Tar Heels’ strong pin hitters, and celebrating Thanksgiving together on Thursday. 


Leah Boyd | Editor-in-Chief

Leah Boyd is a Pratt junior and editor-in-chief of The Chronicle's 117th volume.

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