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Duke volleyball battles on Senior Day in five-set loss against Miami

<p>The Blue Devils dueled Miami with signs honoring their seniors hanging behind section 19 in Cameron Indoor Stadium.</p>

The Blue Devils dueled Miami with signs honoring their seniors hanging behind section 19 in Cameron Indoor Stadium.

The Blue Devils laid everything on the line for their seniors.

In a contentious five-set match, Duke fell against Miami Sunday afternoon in Cameron Indoor Stadium (26-24, 17-25, 25-23, 31-33, 13-15). The Blue Devils battled in their final home match of the season by keeping all five sets within eight points, but they failed to capitalize on their key opportunities and chances to seal the match. 

After rebounding from the lost second set by winning the third set to take a one-set lead entering the fourth, the Blue Devils failed to win two points in a row to clinch the crucial fourth set. With 18 ties and four lead changes, Duke fought to the end—in the back-and-forth affair, Miami ultimately held on in extended points before evening up the match with its 33-31 set victory.

In the fifth set, sophomore outside hitter Rachel Richardson collided with a line judge while chasing after a pass, requiring the point to be redone. The Blue Devils capitalized on the opportunity by winning the redo to take a 5-3 lead in the match-deciding set. 

Duke (16-12, 7-10 in the ACC) continued to battle before eventually falling 15-13 in the fifth. 

“We had a few opportunities like a window cracked, and we didn't necessarily take advantage of it,” head coach Jolene Nagel said. “We had opportunities in the extended points in that fourth set and we needed to just capture those opportunities a little bit better.”

The Blue Devils won the first set 26-24 through scrappy play led by senior outside hitter Gracie Johnson, who recorded 10 kills and six digs in the first set alone. Johnson led the team offensively after recording her career-high 29 kills in Duke's 3-2 win against Wake Forest on Wednesday and totaling 24 kills this Sunday. 

Miami (19-9, 12-5) came back in the second set, targeting Duke’s defensive holes in the backcourt and pushing the Blue Devils to commit service errors. A recurrent theme, the Blue Devils failed to capitalize on opportunities in the second set and throughout the match. The momentum swung as each team failed to establish a serving streak before surrendering the ball back to their opponent. 

Despite the loss, Duke fought the Hurricanes the entire way, improving their performance from October and its 3-0 loss to the same Miami team. 

“We were pretty banged up in October,” Nagel said. 

In the earlier matchup against Miami, the Blue Devils were without key middle blocker and co-captain Lizzie Fleming. Fleming recorded four blocks and five kills Sunday afternoon. 

“There were some people that were playing they were getting in experience,” Nagel said. “We've evened out our passing a little bit and take we've leveled out. We've had some kids get a little bit more consistent in their position.”

Freshman outside hitter Kerry Keefe played a key role in Duke's increased consistency, adding 12 kills Sunday. Keefe’s role has increased throughout the season, as the Blue Devils have battled injuries to their front-row upperclassmen. 

Sophomores Nikki Underwood and Rylie Kadel also displayed their experience Sunday afternoon. Underwood, Duke's libero, kept the match close by recording 32 digs. 

While Kadel, Johnson and Keefe pushed the team offensively, graduate setter Devon Chang supplemented the defense by providing 16 digs and 54 assists along with the longest serving streak for the Blue Devils of the match at four. 

The determination of the Blue Devils shined through in the defeat—which ended a three-match win streak—as they gear up for yet another attempt at redemption, this time against rivals North Carolina. 

Duke will battle the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill Wednesday at 1 p.m.


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