This time a year ago, Duke was in a similar position to the one it finds itself in today. The Blue Devils had welcomed a few new faces and entered the spring season as the No. 6 team in the country, giving the upcoming start to the 2023 season an eerily familiar feel.
The major difference, of course, is the late-season success that Duke found in April and May last season. On its way to the Final Four in Champaign, Ill.—where they would fall 4-3 to eventual national runner-up Oklahoma—the Blue Devils rattled off 12-straight wins over the course of nearly two months, claiming an ACC title in the process. That run fell just short of the ultimate goal, but there is no doubt that it provides a solid launching point for this year’s follow-up campaign.
If the sixth-ranked Blue Devils are to build on that success, they will have to do it with a new-look roster. Gone are Kelly Chen, Eliza Omirou and Margaryta Bilokin, while four newcomers join the show. That quartet is comprised of three graduate transfers—Iuliia Bryzgalova (Penn), Brianna Shvets (Princeton) and Cameron Morra (North Carolina)—along with highly ranked freshman Katie Codd. Morra is the most accomplished of the bunch after a decorated career with the Tar Heels and is ranked No. 28 nationally after the fall.
Beyond the incoming talent, the Blue Devils return their top two singles players from a season ago in Chloe Beck and Georgia Drummy, not to mention the sophomore duo of Emma Jackson and Ellie Coleman, both of whom figure to take a step forward in year two. How the old guard and the new mesh this spring should play a big role in dictating this Duke team’s ceiling.
“I think we have a very deep singles lineup,” head coach Jamie Ashworth, the defending ACC Coach of the Year, told The Chronicle. “But trying to find the right doubles combinations and right personalities with each other on the doubles court is going to be a big factor.”
Things may take time for the rebooted Blue Devils this spring, especially with a target on their backs as reigning champions in the loaded-as-always ACC. The potential exists, though, on one of the nation’s deepest and most experienced teams, for another deep postseason run.
“Historically, we've played our best tennis at the end of the year, which is a good thing. We want to be playing our best in May,” Ashworth said. “So we just want to keep improving and keep getting better on the court and off the court as a team.” -Jonathan Levitan
New player to watch: Cameron Morra
A transfer from that school in Chapel Hill, Morra is a decorated player who is only six wins away from 100 career singles victories. In 2019, she became the first North Carolina freshman to reach the semifinals in the NCAA Singles Championship and was a major part of the Tar Heels' three straight ITA Team Indoor Championships from 2020-2022.
At Duke, Morra will compete in both singles and doubles, with her and Beck using a strong fall campaign to garner a No. 13 national ranking to enter the season. The two have gone from rivals to teammates seamlessly, forming a scary opponent.
“Their game styles mesh. [Morra] is more of a baseliner who's going to drive the ball, and Chloe can really finish at the net,” Ashworth said. “I like their personalities together. I like the game styles together a lot.”
Morra will have to wait all season to return to Chapel Hill to face her former school, as the Blue Devils face off against the Tar Heels in a regular-season finale that will likely have major postseason implications. The graduate student will be essential to Duke’s success, and as she grows more comfortable in a darker shade of blue, her talent and experience will likely propel her toward the top of Duke’s lineup. -Dom Fenoglio
Returning player to watch: Chloe Beck
There are plenty of answers to this prompt, especially with Drummy back in uniform as a graduate student and Jackson’s leap in the fall, but Beck remains the undisputed ace for the Blue Devils following her success on courts one and two last spring.
In 2022, Beck was both an ITA Singles All-American and an All-ACC First Team selection after going 18-0 in regular-season singles play. After a strong fall individually, the senior now begins the spring ranked as the No. 3 singles player in the country.
“She’s definitely ready to go and ready to follow up on the spring that she had last year,” Ashworth said of Beck. “The thing with Chloe is, she wants to keep improving. I don't think she thinks about numbers, I don't think she thinks about ‘I have to win this match.’ I just think she likes the challenge of getting better.”
After years of improvement, Beck is now a veteran and among the best players in the country, and with that comes the challenge of holding down court one for a full season. If the Watkinsville, Ga., native can do that, it will put Duke’s deep singles lineup in position to win a lot of matches. -Levitan
Most anticipated matchup: ITA Kickoff Weekend, Jan. 28-29
While the Blue Devils finished last season winning their final five regular-season matchups and seven more in their run to an ACC title and the Final Four, their start to the season was a bit shakier. In a preface to their semifinal matchup, Ashworth’s squad fell to Oklahoma in last year’s ITA Kickoff Weekend, and the team failed to qualify for the ITA National Indoors Championship.
“We've had good finishes to the last couple of years. But, you know, a big thing that's been missing is the ability to participate in National Team Indoors,” Ashworth said.
This year, Duke's ITA Kickoff includes a matchup with VCU and one of Wisconsin or SMU. In what will likely be their most competitive matches before conference play, the Blue Devils will look to avenge last year’s disappointment with two victories. -Fenoglio
With last year’s success and the addition of new talent, the sky truly is the limit for this team. Key matches will be N.C. State and North Carolina, the final two of the year for Duke, as they are ranked No. 3 and No. 2 respectively. If this team can come out of the highly competitive ACC and make a run in the tournament, they can not only reach back-to-back Final Fours but win their first national championship since 2009. -Fenoglio
For the Blue Devils, the spring is all about peaking at the right time. Without an extra gear for the regular-season stretch and postseason play, Duke could finish off what appeared to be a promising season with a middling finish in the ACC, leaving Ashworth’s squad without the proper momentum or seeding to get back to the Final Four. -Levitan
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Jonathan Levitan is a Trinity senior and was previously sports editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.
Dom Fenoglio is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.