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Duke volleyball bests Boston College in 5-set battle at home

After five sets of back and forth, Duke prevailed late Friday.
After five sets of back and forth, Duke prevailed late Friday.

Just as a tornado warning arrived at Duke, there was a whirlwind of a volleyball match inside Cameron Indoor Stadium. On Friday afternoon, Duke edged out Boston College 3-2 (25-18, 21-25, 25-13, 22-25, 17-15) to attain its 15th win of the season in a highly competitive game. 

"I do think we had quite a few opportunities in set five to take advantage," head coach Jolene Nagel said after the match. "I think we did take advantage of some but I think we gave up a few which is not something you want to have."

The fifth set would be won by whichever side reached 15 points and a two-point advantage first. It was a back-and-forth set, with neither team able to keep the other from fighting back. With the game tied up at 13, Duke (15-11, 6-9 in the ACC) took a timeout to pause before the final plays of the match. 

Out of the timeout, Duke freshman outside hitter Kerry Keefe registered a kill before the Blue Devils committed two errors to give Boston College (17-12, 5-10) the lead at 15-14. The Eagles committed an attack error of their own to equalize the game once again at 15. The game would keep going until one of the teams ran away with it. 

With the fifth set tied, Duke substituted libero Nikki Underwood and middle blocker Rylie Kadel into the lineup. Underwood served, and after a strong rally, graduate setter Devon Chang tallied her 53rd assist to Kadel, who ripped the kill. The Blue Devils were patient with their one-point lead that they had lost before, but there was a palpable excitement in the air that Duke would bring it home right then. Ultimately, Underwood served again and Keefe showed no sign of inexperience, striking the game-winning kill to give Duke the win.

"The last time when we played BC, Kerry had only been practicing four days before we ended up competing that weekend," Nagel said. "She had been out from a surgery earlier in the summer … So obviously since then, we've been able to have her a lot more. She has been able to become much more comfortable and she's a huge important factor for us setting that block over there and then also in her offense - doing just a great job with that and so it's been fun to see someone as a freshman be able to come in and make those big contributions that she's making."

Ever since Duke lost at Boston College Sept. 25, Saturday's matchup was presumably marked on the calendar for the Blue Devils. Duke came out ready to protect home court and prevent a second-straight loss to the Eagles, winning the first set 25-18 and leading the second set 19-13. It seemed that the Blue Devils were poised to take a two-set lead, but the Eagles would not be stopped. Boston College went on an 8-0 run to take the lead. Duke took two consecutive timeouts during this run, but it did not matter; the Eagles tied the game 1-1 after winning the second set 25-21. 

"I don't think I did a very good job because obviously they didn't get that I was challenging them … listen, you're letting them creep back in one at a time," Nagel said of the two timeouts. "This is dangerous, you know, and certainly that's what happened."

Despite Boston College carrying momentum into the third set, Duke responded with a sense of urgency, winning it easily 25-13. While Duke would not have preferred such a long match at that point, Boston College responded with a strong fourth set to even the score. 

"I think [Boston College is] a competitive team," Nagel said. "They fight hard. They're going to challenge you no matter what, and they're not gonna lay down and I just think we need to do a little bit better job of taking care of business when we had some leads."

Duke won behind an all-around strong performance by senior outside hitter Gracie Johnson with 24 kills and 13 digs. She was joined on the offensive end by sophomores Rachel Richardson and Kadel with 14 and 11 kills, respectively. Keefe had one of her most impactful outings at Duke with 10 kills, including on match point. The team was anchored by Chang, who nearly matched her career-high of 53 assists, and Underwood, who recorded 32 digs.

Next, Duke plays Wake Forest at home Wednesday at 6 p.m.


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