Duke displayed what it is capable of when firing on all cylinders, but was reminded that its engine needs a tune-up Sunday against Louisville.
Coming off two losses the week prior, the Blue Devils returned to Cameron Indoor Stadium Friday where they were able to defeat Notre Dame 3-1. Days later, they fell to the sixth-ranked Cardinals in straight sets.
“I think we’re capable of executing better than we did today. Louisville is a good team. They served well and they passed well” said head coach Jolene Nagel of Sunday’s performance. “We really rallied in the third set when we could have laid down a little bit. So I was really happy to see that.”
And Louisville came out swinging, winning the first five points of the first set. The Cardinals kept the Blue Devils (11-6, 2-4 in the ACC) at arms length for the first set’s entirety, not once allowing Duke to tie. Louisville (14-2, 5-1) maintained consistency to take the 1-0 lead, finishing the first frame with a 0.341 hitting percentage.
“There are two areas where [Louisville] did really well today, which was their serving and their passing. But we were right there with them in the blocks” Nagel said.
Graduate student Lizzie Fleming and junior Rachel Richardson led the Blue Devils in blocks, each collecting three.
The Blue Devils were able to keep it close towards the beginning of the second set before the Cardinals again pulled away, unable to match the frequency of Louisville’s kills.
“Louisville served well, and they passed well. The ball is coming very, very fast,” Nagel said. And I think the speed of the ball exposed some things in our defense today that we're going to continue to work on.”
Louisville completed eight aces in comparison to Duke’s one and was able to get the best of the Blue Devil defense throughout the match Sunday.
In the third set, Duke looked to recreate its impressive five-set extension against Florida State Oct. 1, after it similarly started the game down 2-0. Despite the Blue Devils taking an early lead, Louisville held its ground and eventually bested Duke 25-18 to sweep the match.
“I think we started to let down a little bit in regards to [touching and passing],” Nagel said. “So they ended up getting a few points on us in a row. And then it's hard to recover from that.”
On Friday evening, Duke returned home to face Notre Dame (9-5, 3-3) in preparation for its game against Louisville, coming off two tough road losses against Miami and the Seminoles. It was packed house; hundreds of graduate students took breaks from their weekend of camping in Krzyzewskiville and filed into Cameron Indoor to support Blue Devil volleyball.
After outlasting the Fighting Irish through a tight, back-and-forth third set which finished 30-28, Duke concluded the match in four sets. The Blue Devil offensive attack was led by Gracie Johnson (19 kills), Rylie Kadel (13 kills, a career high) and Kerry Keefe (13 kills).
Duke started the game slow with a .033 hitting percentage in the first frame. Blue Devil mistakes allowed Notre Dame to take an early 1-0 lead on the home team. In the second set, Duke cleaned up its mistakes, increasing its hitting percentage to .242 to steal the set from the Fighting Irish 25-20.
With the pivotal third set came full crowd participation. As Duke and Notre Dame swapped leads, both teams ensured that they stayed within striking distance of the other, and as the score increased so did Cameron Indoor’s noise levels. The set extended past the usual 25-point cut-off, as neither team was able to the two-point lead required to take it. Eventually, Fleming decided to take matters into her own hands and finished off the set with a block.
The Blue Devils used their momentum to cruise through the fourth set and defeat Notre Dame 25-20, putting another tally in the win column.
“For us to compete with the best teams in the league, we're going to have a very defensive week in preparation to hit the road again.” stated Nagel.
Duke will have this week to regroup before hitting the road for four ACC away games in a row, starting with a Friday match against Boston College in Chestnut Hill, Mass.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.