DURHAM, N.C. - Following a successful weekend in Gainesville, Fla., the Duke volleyball team continues its early season road swing with a trip to Minneapolis for the Diet Coke Classic Sept. 6-7. The Blue Devils battle Western Illinois Friday at 6 p.m., before taking on Ball State and No. 4 Minnesota Saturday at 12 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., respectively.
Duke (2-1) began the season with a pair of victories this past Friday at the Campus USA Credit Union Invitational. The Blue Devils swept both LIU Brooklyn and New Orleans to open the 2013 campaign before falling to ninth-ranked Florida in Saturday’s tournament finale. Sophomore Emily Sklar earned all-tournament recognition after the San Jose, Calif., native led Duke with 25 kills on the weekend.
“I was excited the team came out ready to play last weekend,” said head coach Jolene Nagel. “We need to serve a little bit better going forward, but I think we learned from this past weekend because we played good competition. Against LIU Brooklyn, we were down by quite a bit in set two and we came back to take the set, which was really promising to see from our young team. They really pulled together and focused when they needed to. Florida … they’re just a big, physical team. The speed and the tempo was so fast; it was a great opportunity for us to play them, but our focus this weekend will be on us as we make some adjustments and try to eliminate the unforced errors.”
After dropping its first match of the season 3-1 to Bradley, Western Illinois (2-2) registered back-to-back victories Saturday over Tennessee-Martin and Maryland-Eastern Shore. Junior outside hitter Ann Miller earned CEFCU Classic All-Tournament Team honors after she finished the weekend with 57 kills, a .417 hitting percentage, 34 digs, four service aces and five blocks. In its last outing, Western Illinois dropped a five-set match to in-state foe Northern Illinois Wednesday evening.
Duke and Western Illinois reunite for the first time in 26 years Friday evening. The Blue Devils fell to the Leathernecks 3-1 in the two teams’ only previous meeting, a Nov. 7, 1987 match in Washington, D.C.
The Blue Devils’ second opponent, Ball State, enters the weekend with a 3-1 overall record following a five-set win against IPFW Wednesday night. Outside hitter Alex Fuelling leads the Cardinals with 67 kills through four matches while also contributing 48 digs.
The Blue Devils and the Cardinals have crossed paths four times prior to Saturday with Duke holding the 3-1 advantage in the all-time series. Duke won the first three matches in the series before falling 3-2 at Ball State Sept. 19, 1999 in the two teams’ last meeting.
Ranked fourth in the latest AVCA Coaches Poll, Minnesota (4-0) is the highest ranked Duke opponent since the Blue Devils squared off with No. 4 Southern California in Aug. 2007. The Gophers opened the 2013 season at the UAB/Samford Challenge, earning four-straight 3-0 set wins against Jacksonville State, UAB, Georgia State and Samford. Minnesota, led by Tori Dixon and Daly Santana with 49 and 43 kills respectively, hit .399 as a team for the weekend.
Saturday’s contest is the third meeting with Minnesota in program history. The Blue Devils and the Gophers split their first two encounters with Duke winning the first match in 1994 and Minnesota taking the second in 2010.
Duke opens the home portion of its schedule with the Duke Invitational Friday and Saturday, Sept. 13-14. The Blue Devils welcome Liberty, Utah State and South Carolina for their annual home tournament.