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Duke volleyball bounces back from loss to take dramatic win against Virginia

Senior outside hitter Gracie Johnson spikes a shot against Virginia Sunday evening. The Blue Devils earned their first ACC win in a four-set affair.
Senior outside hitter Gracie Johnson spikes a shot against Virginia Sunday evening. The Blue Devils earned their first ACC win in a four-set affair.

In an isolated system, entropy can never decrease. The Second Law of Thermodynamics tells us that the universe can only get more and more disordered.

And as sophomore Nikki Underwood flung herself over the chairs on Duke’s bench to save a shanked ball, narrowly missing the water cooler and inducing sympathetic winces from the faces of fans, that age-old law proved true in a chaotic match.

Duke bested Virginia in a four-set thriller (25-14, 25-14, 16-25, 28-26) Sunday evening, marking the first ACC win of the season for the Blue Devils. The victory came after a loss to No. 10 Pittsburgh (10-25, 23-25, 11-25) Friday evening and ended the Blue Devils’ three-game ACC losing streak.

“It was really exciting,” head coach Jolene Nagel said of Sunday’s victory. “Our team’s had to go through a lot lately with having some adversity with just staying healthy and everything. We’ve had to move things around a few times. So the fact that this group could put it together today to get their first ACC win—I’m really proud of them. And they did it themselves. And they needed to know they could do that.”

It seemed that during the first two sets Sunday, members of the crowd were just as active during each rally as the players. After Virginia libero Madison Morey shanked a hard float serve into the stands, Brooklyn Borum chased after the ball and flung herself into the visitor stands, shocking several spectators nearby. Just two plays later, Virginia’s Mary Shaffer sent the scorekeepers scrambling to keep their papers on the table after she slammed into the score table to recover another ball destined for the stands. Fans flinched after a sharp cross-court swing by Duke freshman Kerry Keefe landed in front of the 10-foot line and bounced up into the seats.

But despite the disorder of each play, just looking at the score shows that Duke (10-5, 1-3 in the ACC) held a steady lead over Virginia (8-7, 0-4) for almost all of the first two sets—some relatively smooth sailing for the Blue Devils. Enter the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which reminds us that it’s only natural for things to turn into chaos.

After starting off the third set neck-and-neck, Virginia’s offense found its rhythm and made it the Blue Devils’ turn to devolve into a scramble. The Cavaliers’ Veresia Yon was unstoppable, putting the ball down before Duke’s defense even had time to hit the floor. The offensive relentlessness from Virginia guided it through the third set quickly, leading both teams into the fourth set with momentum—Duke with an extra set under their belt, and Virginia having just won the last set handily. It was anyone’s game.

The fourth set was neck and neck from start to finish, with neither team earning more than a three-point lead at any time throughout the set. In addition to the back-and-forth rally wins, the chaotic play from the first two sets was back again as Duke's senior outside hitter Gracie Johnson flung herself onto the court several times to recover balls and Underwood sprawled to recover a ball that bounced off of the basketball net hanging overhead. With defense mostly consisting of sticking a limb out in hopes of getting the ball up, both sides had to find creative ways to get the ball over the net from imperfect sets. The Cavaliers often tried to roll-shot the ball into the empty space in the middle of Duke’s court while Keefe tipped the ball into the back corner of Virginia’s court.

Virginia called a timeout with Duke holding a 25-24 lead, giving the Blue Devils one more chance to regroup together before the game was decided.

“I was just talking to them about being really assertive, going after the ball, wanting to pass the ball, stepping to the ball—just being aggressive in getting it and not just waiting on our heels—not just letting them come after us. I told them that we needed to go after it,” Nagel said of what she told the team in that timeout.

Blue Devil junior middle blocker Georgia Stavrinides blocked the ball straight down and after four sets of increasing tumult, the chaos now only came from Duke’s court, with cheers and celebration to be heard through the arena as the Cavaliers puttered back to the bench, still winless in the ACC.

“I think it was a big team effort. We had everyone firing the ball—Kerry Keefe, Taylor Atkinson, everyone was firing, so it helped us to space out their defense,” Johnson, a captain for the Blue Devils, said of the end of the match.

Duke’s match against Pittsburgh was less ceremonious for the Blue Devils, with the three-set loss riddled with unforced errors and difficulty in serve-receive for Duke’s defense. Duke ended the match with a .053 hitting efficiency, with Pittsburgh’s .322 allowing it to remain dominant at the net. But the loss highlighted an essential part of this Duke squad: their resilience.

“I think our team did a good job of that today—letting go of Friday. We had a day to talk about it, let it go and get back out here,” Nagel said of Sunday’s game.

Next up for the Blue Devils is a weekend on the road, where they’ll take on Florida State Friday at 6:30 p.m. and Miami Sunday at 1 p.m.


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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