Duke volleyball, plagued by slow starts, drops weekend games at Miami, Florida State

Graduate student Gracie Johnson leaps up to hit the ball during Duke's match with Santa Clara.
Graduate student Gracie Johnson leaps up to hit the ball during Duke's match with Santa Clara.

As they stormed into the fifth set on Sunday afternoon, coming back from being down 2-0, the Blue Devils wondered if the Sunshine State would finally shine on them. 

After losing in four sets to Miami Friday night, Duke came into Sunday afternoon’s game against Florida State hoping for a rebound win. However, the road trip to the Sunshine State proved not so sunny for the Blue Devils as they fell to Florida State in the fifth set, moving to 10-5 on the season and 1-3 in the ACC. 

Coming off a decisive three-set win against Virginia the week prior, Duke came into Friday night’s game against Miami — its first ACC road game — with the confidence of a team that had won nine of its last ten games. But from the first serve, the Hurricanes proved they would provide a challenge for the Blue Devils. Miami played aggressively from the start, taking an early 6-1 lead in the first set and forcing Duke head coach Jolene Nagel to take an early timeout. 

“I think one thing will be just understanding that we got to to put it together from point one,” Nagel said. “Put on the gas and just not stop.”

Duke (10-5, 1-3 in the ACC) showed signs of the gas that it needed and proved that it wouldn’t go down without a fight. After losing the first set, the Blue Devils handled Miami’s offense well, keeping the game close when it easily could have run away from them by winning the second set 28-26. 

Duke’s defense was largely to thank for this with nine blocks. Graduate students Lizzie Fleming and Jess Robinson led the defensive effort against the Hurricanes (10-4, 3-1) with four blocks each, stifling some of Miami’s high-powered, fast-paced offense. Duke continued its effective defensive play against Florida State (10-6, 4-0), a team known for its powerful hits and serves. 

Against the Seminoles Sunday afternoon, the Blue Devils again started slowly and lost the first two sets, initially unable to get into an offensive rhythm against Florida State’s scrappy defense. Their offensive energy changed in the third set where Duke won 25-23, forcing a fourth set and giving hope for a reverse sweep comeback. Graduate students Gracie Johnson and Madison Bryant led the Blue Devil effort — Johnson with a .429 hitting percentage and 25 kills, more than doubling the amount she had in the Miami game, and Bryant with 17 digs and two pancakes in key moments to keep their hopes alive. Duke started the fourth set aggressively on offense and took an early 5-0 start, never letting Florida State take a lead in the set and winning 25-22, taking the game to a fifth set. 

Florida State’s defense, though, quickly interrupted the Blue Devils’ newfound offensive rhythm in the fifth set, and the Seminoles quickly broke away, ending in a 15-8 win for Florida State. The core of Duke’s offensive struggles came on the serve. The Blue Devils recorded 12 serving errors against seven aces, including the serving error by junior Rachel Richardson that ended the game and Duke’s hopes for a comeback. 

“I would have preferred we didn’t have as many errors,” Nagel said. “I think it’ll definitely be something we talk about moving forward … The things that you have to improve on are not all of the biggest things in the world.” 

Despite the loss, Duke recorded a .325 hitting percentage, higher than its averages from the past three games, a sign that the offense has all of the tools necessary for success. 

The Blue Devils come back to Cameron Indoor Stadium against ACC opponent Notre Dame and Louisville this weekend. 

“We got to just take care of ourselves, and be mentally tough to try to be the best we can be,” Nagel said. “There’s no easy matches in the ACC.” 


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