Despite entering the weekend a little bit like a fish out of water, the Blue Devils proved they might have the chops to swim with the big fish.
Duke was tested and partially rose to the challenge this weekend as it took on three teams at the Reamer Club Xtra Special Premier and collected its first win against a ranked team since 2019. After falling to both No. 16 Purdue and Loyola Chicago, Duke won 3-2 against No. 18 Creighton Sunday.
“We knew this was going to be a huge challenge,” said head coach Jolene Nagel on deciding to play in the out-of-conference tournament. “We came up short [against Purdue], but we saw some really good things. Our team played with composure in front of a big crowd on the road.”
While Nagel is a proponent of challenging her team with strong opponents, she said the team “needed to produce a little more offensively” in the Friday match against the Boilermakers. With the Blue Devils recording 21 service errors, Duke (1-2) created part of its own offensive problems, which only added to the uphill battle against a solid Big Ten opponent.
The offensive struggles extended to Saturday’s match against the Ramblers as the Blue Devils only recorded a .118 hitting percentage for the match compared to Loyola Chicago’s .234, who won the match in straight sets. Graduate student Gracie Johnson led the Blue Devils with 10 kills and 11 digs to get her first double-double of the season.
“[The Ramblers] are smaller but very explosive, quick and smart. It was good for us to be against an opponent like that,” Nagel said. “We did not control the tempo of that match like we would have liked to.”
Despite the two losses at the beginning of the weekend, Duke finished it off strong with its first win against a ranked opponent since 2019 with a five-set triumph against No. 18 Creighton. The Sunday win was a team effort as three Blue Devils recorded double-doubles – Johnson, Kerrie Keffe and Emma Worthington – and junior Rachel Richardson established a career-high 16 kills.
The ability to get a big win after two losses in a row was big for the Blue Devils this weekend, Nagel said.
“We went out there mentally ready to compete,” Nagel said. “We got even stronger as the match went on because things were flowing better than the day before for us.”
The numbers certainly reflect the change in offensive flow as Duke improved their hitting percentage from the poor showing against Loyola Chicago to a respectable .240 against the Bluejays. This was boosted by Lizzie Fleming, who in addition to recording four blocks and nine kills, had a .444 hitting percentage for the match.
Overall an improved consistency in passing and defense helped the Blue Devils to establish their offensive rhythm for the first time in the weekend tournament.
Whether or not they can keep the offensive rhythm going is the next question, as they travel home to compete against Loyola Maryland and West Virginia this week.
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