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Duke volleyball's 9-match win streak ends with losses to Syracuse, Boston College

Junior setter Sydney Yap led Duke in digs against Syracuse with 11.
Junior setter Sydney Yap led Duke in digs against Syracuse with 11.

The number nine carries some ancient significance. There were nine planets in our solar system before Pluto got the infamous downgrade. Dante’s “The Divine Comedy” describes nine circles of Hell. There are nine muses in Greek mythology and nine different levels in both the Aztec and Mayan underworlds. They say a cat has nine lives. 

And as clouds hung overhead in the Northeast this weekend to welcome a bitter autumn, Duke ended a nine-match winning streak, adding itself to the bizarre list of worldly nines.

The Blue Devils fell to Syracuse in four sets (25-18, 19-25, 22-25, 21-25) Friday afternoon, followed by another five-set loss Sunday (25-22, 12-25, 19-25, 25-21, 12-15) to Boston College. 

“We’ve got to learn from our outing and be better moving forward, and I think we’ll be able to do that,” head coach Jolene Nagel said Sunday. “I liked how we responded after Friday night to today. And we came up a bit short, but we are beat up a little bit, and hopefully, we can start to get some players back. But in the meantime, we’ve gotten a lot of experience for the rest of our team, so that’s a very positive thing.”

Led by junior libero Anna Murphy, Boston College’s defense hit full force right out the gate, with most of the Blue Devils’ attack attempts finding the Eagles (12-3, 1-1 in the ACC) instead of the court. Murphy was the enemy of almost every attack attempt by the Blue Devils (9-4, 0-2), making easy work of senior outside hitter Gracie Johnson driving an attack to the 10-foot-line and two setter dump attempts by senior Cami Nazor.

The second set in Chestnut Hill, Mass., was an inverted image of the first, with the Eagles’ offense taking advantage of discombobulated plays from Duke’s side of the court. In a particular miscommunication, graduate transfer Devon Chang set senior middle blocker Lizzie Fleming for a quick set from the middle. Fleming, who appeared to be anticipating a higher set, was forced to send over a high tip and was unable to recover quickly enough to stop a pummel from the outside pin by the Eagles’ junior outside hitter Alyana Crabtree.

This momentum carried through up until the fifth set. Many of Duke’s passes were sent right on top of the net, which were either easily taken care of by Crabtree or dug out of the net by Chang, leaving Duke’s offense with little other option than to tip the ball over the net, an uncharacteristically slow offense for a team that normally swings hard at every opportunity.

“We had too many [overpasses] early on in the match—I don’t think we were passing as well, but as the match went on, we got a little bit better,” Nagel said. “And that was important; we needed to clean that up to be able to do well.”

Both teams opened up the fifth set struggling to perform well in serve receive. The set opened with Johnson, ranked fifth nationally with 0.78 aces per set, acing junior outside hitter Katrina Jensen, as the ball landed behind the Eagles’ bench after finding the side of her arms. Later, a pass behind the Eagles’ 10-foot-line led to a high set behind the head of senior opposite hitter Izzy Clavenna, who, unable to find a cross-court angle with the awkward positioning, sent the ball into the antenna. But ultimately, Murphy’s defensive contributions, including two key digs in one rally, and Clavenna’s ability to force shots right through the Duke block handed the deciding set to the Eagles.

Due to fluxes in injuries, the Blue Devils also saw some unique rotations on the floor against the Eagles. Freshman outside hitter Kerry Keefe returned to practice a couple of weeks ago, Nagel said, and had a solid weekend for Duke, with 14 kills and 12 blocks. Johnson also returned after being taken to the locker room against Michigan State, while graduate transfer libero Madison Bryant has yet to return after sustaining an injury against Northeastern.

“It’s disappointing that we’re dealing with some of the injuries right now, but I do think it’s going to ultimately make our team stronger because we’re getting the opportunity for more people to get experience,” Nagel said.

Friday, both Duke and Syracuse made their fair share of errors at the net, racking up 24 and 25, respectively. The Blue Devils also tallied 13 service errors, while the Orange earned nine. 

“If we’re going to make errors, we’ve got to get more kills. And same thing with service errors; we’re going to have to have more aces for it to balance each other out,” Nagel said. She also noted that Syracuse has a strong offense run by its pin hitters, which Duke struggled to defend by closing the block and aligning its defense properly.

“I don’t feel like we played up to our capabilities on Friday as much as we could have,” Nagel said. “We just had too many errors. And we have to control those errors in order to be successful.”

Duke will host No. 10 Pittsburgh in Cameron Indoor Stadium Friday at 6:30 to continue its conference slate.


Leah Boyd

Leah Boyd is a Pratt senior and a social chair of The Chronicle's 118th volume. She was previously editor-in-chief for Volume 117.

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