On August 30, 92,003 people came to watch Nebraska’s women’s college volleyball match against Omaha, breaking the world record for the highest attendance at a women's sporting event ever. While Duke hasn’t reached those heights, it made a statement of its own this week.
Facing outside opponents this weekend at the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, the Blue Devils proved themselves to be an adaptable bunch, beating both Michigan State and Michigan. After a quick 3-0 win against Elon Tuesday, Duke traveled to compete in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and extended its win streak to six since a loss to Loyola Chicago August 26.
Sophomore Kerry Keefe led the offensive charge against Elon — 10 kills and a .471 hitting percentage — as Duke was coming off a close 3-2 win against West Virginia. But Keefe, who was named ACC Offensive Player of the Week, attributes it all to her setters.
“I couldn’t have done it without my setters,” she said.
“I’m really proud of this team tonight,” Keefe said after the win against Elon. “We knew we needed to take care of business. We have a big weekend ahead, so it’s good to get some momentum going into the weekend.”
Even though the box score reads differently, the Blue Devils (6-2) at times struggled to establish a lead this weekend as they encountered 19 ties in the match versus the Spartans and 15 in the second set alone against the Wolverines.
Michigan came out swinging Saturday evening, out-hitting the Blue Devils 58-48 and logging a final hitting percentage of .207 against Duke’s .176. With strong blocks and consistent serves, the Blue Devils were able to stave off the Wolverines' powerful attackers, as they out-blocked Michigan 15-10 and added six aces.
“It came down to our pass and our serve. We served pretty well in that match [Michigan] and that was really helpful,” said Duke head coach Jolene Nagel. “Our passing was a little bit in and out.”
After taking the first set against the Wolverines 25-19, Duke struggled to establish a lead in the second, but wasn’t afraid to make rotational adjustments to try and get back on track. Even though the Wolverines were able to hold off three set points, Duke was able to win the second set 28-26 and take a 2-0 lead. However, the Blue Devils struggled in the third set, setting up a make-or-break fourth.
“We dug ourselves a hole in the third set. Then all of a sudden, we took off and they were in a funk, but then they would catch up to us. It was a constant pull. Each point was significant and [the players] knew that,” Nagel said. “I love how our team mentally hung in there to play each point to the best of our capabilities at the time.”
Throughout the week, Duke trailed at times, but only dropped one set over its past three games, despite facing strong competition. This was true against Michigan, but also against Michigan State the day before.
The Blue Devils logged five more kills and notched a .283 hitting percentage against the Spartans, who hit .224 and didn’t claim a set of their own. Jess Robinson and Keefe paced their team with 10 kills apiece, while 30 assists from Emma Worthington and 10 digs from Madison Bryant were also team highs in the shutout victory.
With the Blue Devils traveling to N.C. Central Wednesday night, Duke faces its next opportunity to continue its hot start.
“We weren’t necessarily flowing perfectly, but what I have witnessed about this team is they’re able to — maybe they get off track — but they’re able to bring it back on track. Time and time again they’ve been doing that,” Nagel said about her team’s performance.
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