DURHAM, N.C. – The 19th-ranked Duke volleyball team faces a tough challenge this weekend as the Blue Devils hit the road for a pair of ACC/Big Ten Challenge matches in Michigan.
The Blue Devils take the court against two talented Big Ten foes in Michigan and No. 14 Michigan State. Duke faces Michigan at the Wolverines’ Cliff Keen Arena Friday, Sept. 5 at 7 p.m. The Blue Devils then meet the Spartans at 5 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 6 at Michigan State’s Jenison Field House.
Duke enters the weekend with an unblemished 4-0 record, picking up wins over North Florida, High Point and Furman at the annual Duke Invitational. The Blue Devils’ fourth win came against Campbell Tuesday night in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
“I think the first four matches gave us confidence,” said setter Maggie Deichmeister. “We’re starting to get a lot more comfortable with each other. We’ve done a lot of different lineups, and we’ve won with those lineups, so it’s good to see that we have a lot of options.”
All-American outside hitters Jeme Obeime and Emily Sklar have picked up where they left off in 2013 as both players enter the weekend averaging over 4.00 kills per set and hitting over .300. In addition, Obeime is nine kills shy of becoming the 22nd Duke player to reach 1,000 career kills.
Overall, Duke boasts five players with over 25 kills so far, including sophomore middle blockers Jordan Tucker (38) and Alyse Whitaker (35). Sophomore libero Sasha Karelov anchors the defense, averaging 5.50 digs per set after amassing a career-high 35 digs against Campbell.
“We’re still really looking at things, but I think it’s been a great start so far in that we’ve been able to learn more about ourselves each time we step onto the court,” said head coach Jolene Nagel. “We’re still a team that’s growing and developing. I look for us to make some more progress in that this week with these two tough road matches.”
Friday’s match pits the Blue Devils against the Wolverines for the fourth time in program history and the second time in the past three seasons. Michigan leads the series 2-1 after beating the Blue Devils in five sets Sept. 15, 2012 at the Coke/Michigan Invitational in Ann Arbor, Mich. Obeime led Duke with 14 kills while Sklar had 13 in the Blue Devils’ last meeting with Michigan.
Earning a road victory Friday is no easy task; Michigan has won 16 straight home openers dating back to Sept. 5, 1997. The 2-1 Wolverines opened the 2014 campaign with wins over Stephen F. Austin and Tennessee State at the Arkansas Invitational before falling to host Arkansas in five sets.
The Blue Devils face an equally daunting challenge Saturday at undefeated Michigan State. The Spartans are 4-0 on the year following the UAB/Samford Invitational this past weekend. MSU, a team that posted a .346 hitting percentage its opening weekend, swept Southeastern Louisiana, UAB and Jacksonville State prior to earning a four-set victory over Samford in the tournament finale.
Saturday’s contest marks just the second match in program history between the Blue Devils and the Spartans. Michigan State won the two teams’ only previous meeting, a five-set affair Aug. 29, 1997 in Durham.
Duke continues its travels next week, heading to California for matches against No. 2 Stanford, Santa Clara and Penn.