DURHAM, N.C. – The 15th-ranked Duke volleyball team clinched the 2013 ACC Championship outright in dramatic fashion, rallying for a five-set (17-25, 25-23, 22-25, 25-23, 21-19) victory over No. 14 North Carolina Friday afternoon in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Down 2-1 overall, the Blue Devils faced a daunting eight-point deficit late in the fourth frame before rallying to send the match to a fifth stanza. The Tar Heels set up match point at 14-12 in the fifth before the Blue Devils again fought off defeat to earn the ACC’s automatic bid to the 2013 NCAA Championship and remain undefeated at 15-0 on their home court.
“It’s awesome,” said senior Ali McCurdy, “It was a great overall team effort to be able to finish that fifth set point-for-point, back-and-forth between us and UNC. It was great to be able to come out on top and just shows the team effort that’s been consistent all year.”
Sophomore Elizabeth Campbell led all players with 17 kills while also picking up 18 digs in her fourth double-double of the year. Freshman Jordan Tucker turned in one of the best performances of her young career, amassing a career-high 16 kills to go along with six blocks. The Prairie Village, Kan., native was one of Duke’s most consistent targets, hitting .353 on the afternoon.
Sophomore Emily Sklar poured in her ninth double-double, racking up 14 kills and 12 digs, while junior Maggie Deichmeister tossed up 59 assists to go along with 17 digs, marking her ninth double-double of the season as well. Senior Chelsea Cook added seven kills to her team-leading seven block total, and junior Jeme Obeime was the fourth Blue Devil with 10 or more kills, adding 13.
McCurdy once again paced Duke’s defense, accumulating 28 digs to lead all players. Freshman Sasha Karelov added 14 to round out a contingent of five Blue Devils in double-digit digs.
“I couldn’t be more proud of them because I thought they just stuck together, kept trying to make plays,” said head coach Jolene Nagel. “I’m happy for our whole team because they’ve been a true team this year. [They] really pushed each other every single day, and yet supported each other, and I think that’s what got us through today. North Carolina played really well. They’re an excellent team. I feel very fortunate to be able to get out of here today with a win.”
North Carolina’s defense plagued Duke (27-4, 18-2 ACC) to start the match as the Tar Heels picked up the first set, 25-17. UNC posted a .297 hitting percentage to Duke’s .064 clip in the opening game.
Despite the early setback, Duke ground out a victory in the second game behind six kills from Campbell. Tied at 22-all, Campbell put down the kill to edge Duke ahead, and a pair of UNC errors ended the set.
Miscues haunted both squads in the third, but North Carolina utilized five Haley McCorkle kills to find a way to come out on top.
North Carolina (27-4, 16-4 ACC) appeared to have the match well in hand following a 25-22 win in the third and a 17-10 lead in the fourth. The Tar Heels’ advantage ballooned to 22-14, but the ever-resilient Blue Devils put together a 5-0 run, culminating in a Tucker kill. UNC countered with a Paige Neuenfedlt tally, but the Tar Heels would not register a point the rest of the way as Duke rattled off six straight to complete the comeback. Tucker and Campbell teamed up on the block to narrow the margin to one before Obeime and Tucker combined for Duke’s second straight stop to tie the score. Campbell finished off the rally, dropping two consecutive kills to tie the match at 2-2.
“Especially being down that much, it was important not to worry about the score,” McCurdy added. “We really just needed to play point-by-point … just forget the score and know it was going to take hard work. Everyone on the floor as well as our bench communicated and we were able to pull it off.”
Duke built a 12-10 lead in the final stanza before North Carolina set up match point with a 4-0 spurt. Undeterred, Campbell knocked down the kill and a UNC attack error knotted the score. The two rivals proceeded to trade blows over the next 10 points, resulting in a 19-19 stalemate deep in the fifth. Duke sealed it’s the win with a kill from Obeime followed by Campbell’s 17th of the afternoon.
The title marks the Blue Devils’ 11th conference crown in program history and first since 2010. Nagel has now guided the Blue Devils to four ACC titles – three outright (2006, 2010, 2013) and one co-championship (2008) – during her 15 years in Durham.
The complete, 64-team field for the 2013 NCAA Volleyball Championships will be announced live on ESPNU Sunday, Dec. 1 at 9:30 p.m.