DURHAM, N.C. – Seniors Becci Burling and Claire Smalzer each connected on 13 kills in their final home match in Cameron Indoor Stadium to lead Duke to a 3-0 (25-17, 25-16, 25-20) win over Virginia on Senior Night on Saturday.
Both seniors hit over .300 in the victory as Duke (24-5, 16-3 ACC) clinched the ACC Championship outright. Duke earned at least a share of the ACC volleyball crown after defeating Virginia Tech 3-1 on Friday, but is now guaranteed sole possession of the conference crown along with the ACC’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
“I’m thrilled for this team to have won the ACC Championship outright,” said Duke head coach Jolene Nagel, who has led Duke to four ACC Championships and nine NCAA Tournament appearances. “They are a very deserving team, and they’ve worked really hard to earn the opportunity for the automatic bid. They’ve continued to want to get better throughout the season, and we’re excited to see how we’re seeded for the NCAA Tournament.”
All three of Duke’s seniors contributed in the win, which may be their final appearance in Cameron Indoor Stadium. In addition to Smalzer’s double-double and Burling’s .333 hitting percentage, senior defensive specialist Alex Sall chipped in five digs, two assists and 12 service receptions while starting all three sets.
“We’re happy we could send our seniors out in Cameron on a winning note,” Nagel said. “They have made tremendous contributions to this program and are leaving a legacy as they move on to their next opportunity. We wanted to make sure we showed our appreciation for all of their hard work, commitment and team attitude.”
The Blue Devils put up another dominant defensive effort, holding Virginia (14-15, 8-11 ACC) to a .088 hitting percentage and only 27 kills. Freshman libero Ali McCurdy picked up 22 digs, giving her 538 for the season.
Junior setter Kellie Catanach, who leads the ACC with 11.36 assists per set, also contributed on the defensive end and recorded her team-leading 11th double-double with 10 digs. Catanach directed Duke to a .274 hitting percentage and saw over 52 percent of her sets put down for kills.
Virginia had no answer for Duke’s spread attack as Christiana Gray and Sophia Dunworth both recorded nine kills and hit over .290. Gray, who leads the ACC in hitting percentage, posted a .533 clip after making only one error on 15 attacks. Duke nearly doubled Virginia’s number of kills with 51 on the night.
The Blue Devils fired on all cylinders in the first set, hitting .343 with 17 kills while holding the Cavaliers to a .095 clip. Burling led the charge with four kills while Gray went 3-for-4 as the Blue Devils amassed 17 kills and only five attack errors. McCurdy held Virginia in check with her nine digs as the Cavaliers put down on 11 of their 42 attacks.
Gray stayed perfect in the second set, finishing 5-for-6 as Duke won 25-16 to stake a two-set advantage. Catanach dissected the Cavalier defense and dished out 17 assists as the Blue Devils hit .455 with 19 kills. Smalzer had six of those while Burling went 4-for-5 with no errors.
The Cavaliers showed some fight in game three, but could not hold off the Blue Devils as they rallied for a 25-20 win. Burling and Smalzer capped their senior night with five more kills each to help the Blue Devils break a 13-13 tie with an 8-4 run. That rally put Duke ahead 21-17 and set the table for three more kills from Burling and another from Smalzer to end the match.
Duke will play its regular season finale on Tuesday, November 23, at Wake Forest a 7 p.m. The Blue Devils will then await their NCAA Postseason seeding on Sunday, November 28, during the NCAA Volleyball Tournament Selection Show on ESPN News. The program will air from 3 p.m. until 3:30 p.m. nationwide.