During a historic home weekend of heavy emotions and ups and downs, Duke demonstrated the importance of keeping composure during a long season.
On Saturday, the Blue Devils came from behind to beat West Virginia in an exhilarating win that went to the fifth set. This nail-biter came after Duke attained its 1000th win in program history Thursday night against Loyola Maryland.
“I definitely think we were able to grow,” said Duke head coach Jolene Nagel. “We didn't necessarily play our best volleyball today but at the same time I think we hung in there and kept focus where we needed to so we could get it.”
In the fifth and final set, Duke (3-2) was down 14-10 and West Virginia was a point away from stealing a victory on the road at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Sophomore Kerry Keefe and graduate student Jess Robinson kept the Blue Devils in the game as Keefe ripped a kill and Robinson recorded two straight kills to give Duke the lead. The crowd erupted over the late comeback, but the Mountaineers (2-4) would not be easy to put away. They responded with a kill from Hailey Green and a service ace delivered by Quincey Coyle to take back the lead.
Duke took a timeout as the stadium held its breath for what would happen next - would the Blue Devils lose a tough one after coming all the way back from behind or would they overcome the odds and emerge victorious for the home crowd? After the timeout, Robinson tied the game with a kill and an attack error, and another kill from the former Michigan Wolverine propelled Duke to victory. Robinson recorded a career-high 21 kills hitting an efficient .643.
“They were very important for us today,” Nagel said about Robinson and Keefe, “I still think it was a great team effort. It wasn't necessarily our best execution, but I think mentally it showed that we've got something special.”
Elsewhere, graduate student setter Emma Worthington recorded 46 assists and also demonstrated strong defensive ability with 15 digs.
“I commend our team for being able to pass so Emma could get them the ball and Emma did a great job of making those choices,” Nagel said.
Saturday’s game against the Mountaineers involved many trials and tribulations for Nagel’s team, who lost both the second and third sets 23-25. Down 2-1, the Blue Devils were on the ropes in a two-point fourth set. However, Duke got better at maintaining its vigor and closed out the set 25-23 to tie the game at two sets apiece and send the game to a fifth.
“We needed to improve on our block and our defense early in the match,” Nagel said. “I think as the match went on, we got better with that but I think that was something that we had to improve on and we also weren't really scoring points in multiples … the score was staying pretty close the whole time and we just really weren't getting any momentum.”
“That was a huge character win for us,” Nagel added. “That says a lot about us and we can really build on this.”
Duke came into the game off a high, registering its 1000th win in program history Thursday against Loyola Maryland (3-3). The Blue Devils were able to beat the Greyhounds in four sets and were aggressive and focused from the start, hitting an impressive .417 in the first set. Keefe led the Blue Devils with a career-high 24 kills and Duke became the 43rd Division I team to hit the 1,000-win mark.
“The fact that it was something we wanted to be able to get … the team has been doing well but we’re trying to grow every single time we come out on the court,” Nagel said.
Duke plays its next home game Tuesday against Elon before hitting the road again to Michigan this weekend for the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
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