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Duke volleyball splits road weekend, sweeping Clemson after falling to Georgia Tech

Graduate student Emma Worthington sets the ball against Santa Clara.
Graduate student Emma Worthington sets the ball against Santa Clara.

At Clemson Sunday afternoon, the Blue Devils proved they have mastered the art of a quick bounce back.

Coming off a four-set loss to Georgia Tech, Duke needed a win against the Tigers to split its four-game ACC road trip and return to Cameron Indoor Stadium victorious. The team did just that, efficiently handling Clemson in three sets and proving exactly what it is capable of when all the puzzle pieces fit exactly right. 

“I think that our team has been very close to … breaking out and really being able to execute like we’re capable on a consistent basis. It was exciting for us to see that we were able to do that today,” said head coach Jolene Nagel.

However, Friday night’s game against No. 13 Georgia Tech proved to be much more of a challenge for Duke’s budding capability. 

From the start, the Yellow Jackets played aggressively, using a .318 hitting percentage in the first set to take an early lead and never letting the Blue Devils develop a true offensive rhythm.

Though its offense was stifled, Duke (13-8, 4-6 in the ACC) played a competitive game against Georgia Tech (17-3, 8-2), never letting its opponent feel comfortable with a lead as the match included 22 ties and 13 lead changes. The Blue Devils’ defense truly shone in the loss, holding Georgia Tech to a .219 hitting percentage and recording 11 blocks. Graduate student Lizzie Fleming recorded seven of those blocks, her season high. Still, with 12 serving errors and only three aces compared to the Yellow Jackets’ 10, Duke simply could not match its opponent’s offensive prowess.

This hard loss seemingly did not affect the Blue Devils, who refused to let their lack of offensive rhythm or numerous errors against Georgia Tech slow them down against Clemson (12-10, 3-7). While another team may have struggled and let its offensive drought continue, Duke showed its true potential to rise to the road-game challenge in a dominant performance on all sides of the ball. 

From the opening point of the first set, the Blue Devils expertly controlled the match and never let the Tigers take the lead. Duke went up 7-3 early in the first set, leading Clemson coach Jackie Kirr to take a timeout. No timeout could stop the Blue Devils’ momentum, and they continued to extend their lead even after the Tigers attempted to slow them down. The offense that could not get started against Georgia Tech went off against Clemson, led by sophomore Kerry Keefe with 18 kills and three aces, proving how vital she is to the Duke attack.

Graduate student Emma Worthington was another key player in lighting the Blue Devils’ offensive spark. Worthington recorded 38 assists as she helped set her teammates up for a .375 hit percentage. The Cornell alumna also celebrated her 2500th career assist during Duke’s win.

“She did a good job moving around and making herself an offensive threat,” Nagel said of Worthington. In addition to the assists, she also recorded an ace and five kills for her team. 

Though Clemson attempted to disrupt Duke’s offense and mount a comeback — managing to tie the game five times — the Blue Devils held on to their control of the match and expertly stopped any momentum the Tigers tried to generate. Led by the dominant defensive duo of graduate-student Jess Robinson and junior Rachel Richardson, each recording three block assists, Duke held Clemson to a .203 hitting percentage. The defensive front line’s powerful blocks were crucial to the Blue Devils’ win. 

“The block was an integral part of us being able to dig balls and be able to transition to score on them...” Nagel said. “We needed to be able to do that to be able to score the point.”

The Blue Devils return to Cameron Indoor Wednesday night against rival North Carolina. 

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