There was no fall break for the Blue Devils, as they had two major ACC matchups on the road this weekend. After dropping a Friday clash with Boston College, Duke capped the weekend with a 3-0 sweep against Syracuse Sunday at the Women’s Building in Syracuse, N.Y.
Duke finished its final set even stronger than the first two, cruising to a 25-9 victory. It was a total team effort, as head coach Jolene Nagel cleared almost the entire bench, trusting each player to help contribute. After they were up 13-5, Taylor Atkinson and Georgia Stavrinides entered the game for the Blue Devils. Atkinson contributed a block, assist and a kill, with Stavrinides contributing three integral kills during this final run.
“We've got a lot of players on our team, for sure, but it's not like not any one of them could actually be on the court all the time,” Nagel said. “It's not like we're gonna fall way off of our performance out there if it's not just a few people, because they're all strong. So that's really exciting and fun, and you can see that today.”
After Stavrinides ripped a kill off an assist from Emma Worthington to put Duke (12-7, 3-5) up 20-8, Syracuse took a timeout to try to stop the momentum and regroup before attempting to stop the bleeding and extend the match.
However, Duke came out of the timeout emboldened to not give up the upper hand and finish off the match strong. Graduate student Madison Bryant in particular demonstrated great resolve, delivering the final three points to give the Blue Devils the win. Sophomore Kerry Keefe played well too, and finished the game leading the team in kills, digs and blocks with eight, six and four, respectively. The front row had strong performances making it difficult for Syracuse (2-16, 0-8) to score, led by Lizzie Fleming and Jess Robinson in the first two sets with six kills each and zero errors, and Rylie Kadel recording three blocks.
“When our players were up there in the front row, they were doing a great job of setting up the block and touching balls on the attack so that our defense could run them down and that allowed us to be able to transition to attack again,” Nagel said.
The Blue Devils had a winning strategy against the Orange, focusing their efforts on defense and simplifying their offense. Kadel, Fleming, Robinson and Keefe were a stifling presence for Syracuse to score on. As a result, the Orange resorted early to attacking the back line. This proved to be futile, as Syracuse recorded 24 errors for the entire game.
On the other hand, the Orange did not record a block the entire match while Duke only recorded four attack errors. Syracuse also hit only .011, marking the fifth time that Duke has been able to hold their opponents under a .100 mark, while the Blue Devils were able to hit for .462.
Duke’s offense was held together by none other than Worthington, whose smart decision making remains a focal point of the offense. She led the team with 33 assists Sunday. Worthington was able to make impressive plays beyond the assist as well, tricking the opponents, including faking an assist during the second set to go for a kill to give Duke the 21-13 lead.
“Emma came to us with some good experience, so she's got some experience behind her and as a graduate student for us," Nagel said. "I just think that experience shows out there on the court,."
Syracuse was also unable to counter the cross-court attacks Duke utilized throughout the game.
“We knew that our defense on the right-hand side of the court was going to be really important to us,” Nagel said. “So I think most people were really staying disciplined in order to be able to take care of that both from their right side and from their middles.”
To set the tone during the integral first set, Duke leapt out to a 23-10 lead before a couple errors by Keefe led to three straight points from the Orange. The Blue Devils took a timeout to regroup, and did not let their nerves get to them. Duke was able to close out the first set en route to its eventual sweep behind kills from junior Rachel Richardson and captain Gracie Johnson.
“I felt in that first set, we really needed to make sure we were playing some solid defense and we needed to pick our defense up in order to be able to not only finish the set, but play like we were capable of,” Nagel said. “So I felt we missed a few early on there. But we did immediately start to do a better job of playing defense, which really helped us get ahead.”
Duke entered Syracuse having come off a tough, competitive match at Boston College Friday in five sets, losing the final set 15-13. This was the third-straight marathon match to five sets between these two ACC teams. The Blue Devils fell early because of the Eagles’ stifling defense, but their efforts to bounce back did not end in victory.
“It was really frustrating to not end up getting it, because the team had actually executed pretty well,” Nagel said. “It certainly took a lot of wind out of our sails on Friday night. We were all very, very disappointed, but we had to regroup and get ready for Syracuse, which is always a difficult match.”
Duke will try to continue its Sunday momentum next weekend on the road against Georgia Tech Friday at 7 p.m. and Clemson Sunday at 1 p.m.
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