FORT COLLINS, Colo. – Down 14-10 in the final frame, Duke spoiled four Colorado State match points to ultimately grab a 3-2 (27-25, 20-25, 30-32, 25-20, 20-18) victory over the Rams in the season opener for both teams Friday evening at Moby Arena.
Duke (1-0) hit .099 through the first two sets but used a solid defensive effort to stun Colorado State (1-0) in the end. Middle blocker Leah Meyer and rightside hitter Samantha Amos contributed nine and eight blocks, respectively, while senior Nicole Elattrache recorded 24 digs in her first career start at libero.
“That was a long match,” said head coach Jolene Nagel. “To keep that mental focus, our team really needed each other’s support. Tonight, we wanted to recover quickly when things didn’t go our way. The team took that to heart. They really didn’t dwell on what we didn’t do perfectly. From the sideline to the court, it was a great team effort to keep us where we needed to be mentally to finish strong.”
Elattrache led a contingent of four Blue Devils in double-digit digs as Duke limited Colorado State to a .212 hitting percentage for the match despite a strong performance from middle blocker Kirstie Hillyer (19 kills, .317 %, 11 blocks).
“Our defense … they were just all over,” said head coach Jolene Nagel. “Our block was getting over the net and doing a good job. We were really disciplined with our defense. That was huge for us on the night.”
Senior outside hitter Cadie Bates notched a double-double with a match-high 20 kills to go along with 10 digs, three blocks and three service aces. In her collegiate debut, freshman outside hitter Payton Schwantz put down 17 kills, picked up six digs and collected three blocks. In addition, senior setter Emma Paradiso totaled 32 assists and 10 digs for the first double-double of her career.
Service errors plagued Colorado State throughout the evening, aiding Duke rallies in both the first and third sets. CSU totaled 13 services errors, compared to seven for the Blue Devils who also tallied seven aces.
“I thought our team did a great job of serving tough,” Nagel said.
Colorado State appeared to control the opening set, building an 18-13 margin thanks in part to Duke miscues. The Blue Devils continued to fight back and ultimately tied the set 22-22 on a Meyer and Amos block. Duke fought off two CSU set points, twice countering with Schwantz kills, before a Ram error gave the Blue Devils a 26-25 edge. Bates then put the frame away with a kill, her fourth of the first frame.
Once again, the Rams staked an 18-13 lead but unlike the first set, Colorado State withstood the Duke rally to clinch the second, 25-20. The Blue Devils trimmed the deficit, 21-19, before CSU pulled away down the stretch to even the overall score at a set apiece.
Duke and Colorado State traded tallies throughout the third, resulting in ? ties. The Blue Devils eked ahead, 23-21, after kills from Amos and Kropf, but CSU countered with two points of its own. Colorado State staved off six set points before sealing the set with a kill and a block, 32-30.
Sophomore Natalie Schilling provided an offensive spark for Duke in the fourth, putting down six kills without an attack error to propel the Blue Devils to a 25-20 victory. The Blue Devils trailed 12-9 prior to an 11-4 spurt that swung momentum.
“That was awesome to see Natalie come in and be aggressive for us,” Nagel added. She was smart out there and also had great control on serve receive.”
Down 14-10, Duke fought off four match points to ultimately knot the score on Bates’ 19th kill. It was then Colorado State’s turn to thwart four Blue Devil match points. Tied 18-18, Meyer dropped a kill and bates completed the comeback with a kill of her own.
Duke returns to action with two matches Saturday, Aug. 26. The Blue Devils take on UCF at 1 p.m. (EDT), before challenging Northern Colorado at 9 p.m. (EDT). Both matches take place in the Bank of Colorado Arena in Greeley, Colo.