The highs and lows of volleyball aren’t only about the jumps. They are about the missed digs and swift rebounds that leave fans in awe and launch the players into frustration.
Still, the lows are just as important as the highs; they build a team's identity. Whether that identity comes from winning the set or missing a block, it builds the foundation for the team’s glory.
Duke got a taste of that glory this week with its eighth- and ninth-straight wins. Thursday, the Blue Devils won at home against Winthrop (25-21, 25-21,19-25, 25-21), and they did it again Saturday against Harvard (25-16, 25-21, 25-14).
“We knew we were going to be faced with different challenges. ... But we're trying to find us. No matter how difficult it gets, we want to stick together and keep working to find us,” head coach Jolene Nagel said.
The Blue Devils (9-2) struggled in the third set against Winthrop (4-7), ultimately losing in stunning fashion as they scrambled to save the ball from the numerous kills. Yet, as the fourth set rolled out, the Blue Devils won thanks in part to freshman outside hitter Taylor Atkinson's first career game striking three kills and three service aces in a row.
Senior captain Gracie Johnson was not in uniform against Winthrop or Harvard due to injury, but her absence is a way for underclassmen to make their mark on the court. Atkinson did just that. Against Harvard she recorded 14 kills and 19 points, as well as another trio of consecutive service aces among four total.
“You never know when freshmen arrive, how the transition will be, but I think that she has taken advantage of opportunity,” Nagel said. “She was our kill leader. That's awesome. And we need some of our players to do that sort of thing, and ... she's evolving into that. And that's tremendous for our team.”
As a whole, the Blue Devils were at the top of their game, with their front-line block strategy putting the Crimson in a frenzy to save the ball. The Blue Devils' back line also stunned the arena with their saves, especially sophomore outside hitter and acting libero Nikki Underwood, who had 10 digs against Harvard and 23 against Winthrop.
Even during longer plays, Duke was able to control the ball, as Harvard struggled to coordinate with each other. Though defense is always important, the Crimson’s negative hitting percentage during the third set (-0.074) helped secure the win for the Blue Devils, as did Winthrop's during the first (-0.041) and fourth set (-0.025).
The Blue Devils now end their nonconference slate on a nine-game win streak, taking on their first ACC opponent next week when they visit the Orange.
“I think we were all just focusing on ending the nonconference schedule really strong, and then using that to build into Syracuse next weekend,” Atkinson said.
Still, it is abundantly clear that all the players have a common goal for this season.
“We really want to get to the NCAA tournament this year, and really push for the ACC championship,” Atkinson said, “We're working very hard for that.”
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