Underdog American U. ends Duke volleyball NCAA sojourn

Dec. 07, 2013 @ 09:55 PM

The Duke Blue Devils were left scratching their heads after getting swept out of the second round of the NCAA volleyball tournament, falling 3-0 (25-23, 26-24, 25-22) to underdog American University Saturday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

The Patriot League champion Eagles (34-2) came into the match seventh in the country in hitting percentage, but American’s defense played a big factor in its victory. Duke (28-5) had an incredible .325 hitting percentage in blitzing College of Charleston on Friday night in the first round, but the Blue Devils managed to put down only 11 percent of their attacks against American.

“This team has had an incredible year,” Duke coach Jolene Nagel said. “I know we’re all extremely disappointed we (didn’t) play our absolute best tonight. But American played great defense, and they did an excellent job controlling the ball and getting the ball to their hitters.”

Though American won in straight sets, Duke had plenty of chances to break through. In the first game, the Devils stormed back to tie the score at 23-23 with six consecutive points. But the Eagles held on with the final two points.

Duke then had a 21-18 lead in the second set after another furious rally of five points in a row and had game point at 24-23. But outside hitter Kristyna Lindovska had a kill for American, and opposite hitter Kelly McCaddin closed out the game with two kills.

In the final set, Duke stormed to a 9-2 lead but won only one of the next 16 points. The Devils rallied late, closing to 23-22 when Elizabeth Campbell blocked American’s Julie Crum. But Lindovska put down two balls to seal the victory.

“We’ve been pretty clutch in a lot of close games on the year,” American coach Barry Goldberg said. “That’s how you get a big record like we’ve got. I think a lot of teams maybe underestimated us until they saw us play.”

Duke said that wasn’t the case.

“It was a little bit that we were a little tight,” Nagel said. “We definitely knew our opponent, and maybe we just overthought things a little bit. I don’t know.”

Nagel said she’d quiz her players as to why they didn’t play up to their usual standards, especially at crucial times. But seniors Ali McCurdy and Chelsea Cook said American deserved a lot of credit.

“We’ve talked all season about coming out and being the aggressor in different matches,” McCurdy said. “I don’t think that was necessarily the case tonight. Give them a lot of credit, though. They’re a great team, and we didn’t show up to the level that we needed to be at tonight to move on.”

Said Cook, “It’s one of those things where we wish we could go back out there right now and played it over again and change some things. But ultimately, they took us out of our game, and we never really recovered to get back into it.”

American advances to play top-seeded and defending national champion Texas in Lincoln, Neb., on Friday.