Duke volleyball victorious in Halloween weekend match against Notre Dame after comeback

<p>Senior outside hitter recorded her milestone 1,000th career kill Sunday.</p>

Senior outside hitter recorded her milestone 1,000th career kill Sunday.

In “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” Lucy places a football on the ground for Charlie Brown to kick, showing him a notarized agreement that she will not pull the football out from under his feet as she usually does. And as audiences get their hopes up, Lucy again sends Charlie flailing onto his back, revealing that she did not actually sign the form.

Sunday afternoon in South Bend, Ind., Notre Dame was up two sets to none against Duke volleyball and, like Charlie Brown, the Fighting Irish took the court for the third set prepared to sweep the Blue Devils as Charlie was prepared to send the football flying. But Duke, inspired by Lucy, ripped the football out from underneath, taking the next three sets and ultimately the match (19-25, 17-25, 25-18, 25-16, 15-8).

“I’m excited that we hung in there when we weren’t playing terribly, but we weren’t necessarily getting those points—that we were able to hang in there mentally so that we could persist,” head coach Jolene Nagel said. “I feel like the team showed resiliency.”

Duke (13-10, 4-8 in the ACC), with its victory over the Fighting Irish (9-13, 4-8), finished a split weekend after it fell to No. 4 Louisville (12-25, 20-25, 22-25) Friday evening. Like Linus and Lucy in the pumpkin patch, senior outside hitter Gracie Johnson hit the jackpot on Sunday, with her last kill of the match marking her 1,000th career kill. Sophomore Rachel Richardson also made her mark Sunday, earning a career-high 15 kills and adding 12 digs, two blocks and three assists to the Blue Devils’ campaign.

“I think she was really solid for us today on serve receive,” Nagel said of Richardson. “I think she got served to a lot, but I think she stayed pretty consistent and steady in her serve receive. And offensively, she took advantage of opportunities when she could see them and was really aggressive up there,” adding that Johnson “really earned” her 1,000-kill milestone.

Sunday’s match started off slow for Duke, allowing Notre Dame to run an uncharacteristically dominant offense. The Fighting Irish came into Sunday’s contest the most blocked team in the ACC this season but entered the third set hitting .319 to the Blue Devils' .141. The effort was led by freshman outside hitter Lucy Trump, whose speciality was finding the deep line shots, forcing Duke’s defense to move outwards in preparation for her swing, but leaving the middle of the court wide open for sophomore setter Phyona Schrader.

Schrader kept with the spirit of Halloween and played trick-or-treat with the Blue Devils throughout the match, earning eight kills by sending the ball over on the second touch instead of setting an available hitter. Schrader has been heavily involved in the Fighting Irish offense all season, coming into Sunday’s contest with 114 kills, and the Blue Devils struggled to adjust to her trickery, particularly in the early minutes of the match.

“We definitely had to respect her and have somebody on her. She got away with a few … quite a few more than I would like,” Nagel said. “But I do think that in the latter sets, we did a better job of containing her.”

The fifth set was arguably the cleanest for Duke, who again proved its dominance in a battle of the blockers. The unit of junior Georgia Stavrinides, Johnson and freshman Kerry Keefe made it difficult for Notre Dame to initiate an offense, and Duke took advantage. Following an uncontested kill by Richardson with a late blocking unit and misplaced defense, the Fighting Irish readied for more high-powered attempts from Duke, but the Blue Devils responded with soft taps off the hands of the opposing blockers to land easy points in front of the 10-foot line.

Friday, though, just as Charlie Brown proclaimed “I got a rock” after each house of trick-or-treating, Duke and Louisville (20-2, 11-1) both saw rocks on the stat sheet during the second set, with the Blue Devils hitting .000 and the Cardinals only marginally higher at .063. Louisville ultimately finished at .203, its third-lowest efficiency of the season.

“I do think we had a slow start there as well in the first set,” Nagel said of the game against Louisville, referencing the Cardinals’ excellent .555 efficiency in the first set. “But moving into two sets two and three, I thought we played with a much higher intensity … we had some better blocking, we were digging more balls, we were playing a lot better defense; it was exciting.”

With Duke challenging Louisville’s offense or tying No. 7 Pittsburgh in blocks, these games prove to the Blue Devils that they are “capable of playing at the highest level,” Nagel said. “But it’s about being able to sustain that level of play; that will help be the difference maker for us to be able to beat some of those teams.”

Duke will travel to Blacksburg, Va., to take on Virginia Tech Friday at 6 p.m. before a Sunday matchup on the road against Wake Forest.

Leah Boyd profile
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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