Duke rides 4th set comeback to ACC volleyball championship
Sputtering with bouts of misplay and mental miscues bracketing flashes of brilliance, Duke was down by eight, and just two points from losing its outright ACC title to rival North Carolina.
But the 15th-ranked Blue Devils (27-4, 18-2) launched a phenomenal, focused attack to rip off an 11-1 run over the shell-shocked No. 14 Tar Heels and win the fourth set to send the title tilt to a deciding fifth set and the eventual championship 3-2 at Cameron Indoor Stadium Friday.
Carolina (27-4, 16-4) would have shared the title with Duke — and perhaps Florida State (23-7, 17-3) — if the Tar Heels had won.
“That’s hard to believe,” Duke coach Jolene Nagel said of the fourth set comeback. “This team has really shown some resilience throughout the year and I think today you saw a perfect example of how they’ve done that.
“I don’t know if we’ve been that far down in a set 4 to get back in it and been able to do that,” Nagel said.
“It’s an amazing feeling right now after seeing our team just fight so hard for that win. I couldn’t have asked for a better senior day, ACC championship, and it was just great,” said senior Chelsea Cook, who had seven kills on the day.
“Right now it’s probably the highlight (of the year) but our season isn’t over yet,” Cook said. “We’ve still got post-season. Hopefully we’ll be back here hosting next weekend and keep taking it one game at a time.” NCAA Tournament selection is at 9:30 on Sunday. Duke holds the ACC’s automatic bid.
In the first set Duke had trouble keeping its scoring attempts inbounds, while UNC consistently slammed its shots between the lines. The Tar Heels cruised to the 25-17 win.
In the second set Duke built leads of as many as five points. But instead of withering the Tar Heels dug in and battled back to within one at 24-23. But on the ensuing match-point serve, UNC’s Leigh Andrew hammered the ball into the net, giving the Blue Devils the 25-23 win.
The third set was a back-and-forth affair, with the Tar Heels jumping out to an early 4-1 lead that included a blistering ace by UNC’s Ece Tanner.
Down 12-7 after a 4-1 run by UNC, Duke put together a 6-0 run of its own to take a 13-12 lead. The Tar Heels had a late 3-0 rally to tie it at 22, but UNC scored three in a row to win the set.
In the fourth set, the Tar Heels jumped out to a 12-7 lead upped it to 22-14. But the Blue Devils, who looked tentative and were missing shots earlier, kicked in the intensity and outscored UNC 11-1 to pull off the impressive 25-23 comeback and send it to the deciding fifth set, a 21-19 win.
“The whole time we were down we just kept saying, ‘One point at a time. ... Let’s fight to the end,’ ” Cook said. “I don’t think there was ever a chance where I didn’t think we would come back.”
The fifth set was nip-and-tuck from start to finish, with Duke at match point five times and UNC once. The set was tied at 15 and four times after that.