LOS ANGELES - The Duke volleyball team won two straight sets to defeat 25th-ranked San Francisco 3-2 (26-28, 25-21, 22-25, 25-23, 15-9) in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Friday evening in Pauley Pavilion and will advance to the second round where they will face the winner of No. 9 UCLA and LSU on Saturday at 10 p.m. (ET).
Duke junior Rachael Moss had 16 kills and 17 digs in the effort, and sophomore Becci Burling went 15-for-30 attacking with a .467 hitting percentage to lead Duke in the win. Duke (25-8) trailed 2-1 following the third set but held on for a 25-23 win in set four before rolling past the Dons (22-8) 15-9 in the final set.
Burling made just one error the entire match and put down four of her final eight attacks over Duke’s last two sets. She had three blocks in Duke’s fourth-set win and finished with four for the match while also sneaking in two service aces. Moss, meanwhile, recorded her 18th double-double after taking a team-high 45 attacks in the match.
Duke senior Jourdan Norman also came up big on the defensive end with eight of Duke's 14 blocks, while classmate Sue Carls added nine kills, including the match-clinching point in the final set. Norman also added eight kills, while freshman teammate Sophia Dunworth finished with 10 on 30 attacks and setter Kellie Catanach tossed up 54 assists. Catanach also picked up a double-double – her 17th of the season – with 12 digs.
Duke had five players with at least four blocks in the match, including Norman (8), Burling (4), Catanach (4), Carls (4) and Dunworth (4). Catanach, Norman and Dunworth each had solo stops. When the Dons managed to hit past that group, Duke libero Claire Smalzer was there to pick up the pieces and chalked up 17 digs, tying Moss for the team lead. Senior Aana Wherry also chipped in seven digs and 28 service receptions.
The Dons went to their 5-10 outside hitter Sarah Mandala early and often, as she put down nine of her 20 kills in the first set on the way to a .261 hitting percentage for the match. Mandala took 46 attacks in the match to lead all players. Middle blocker Alix Gombos was also one of San Francisco’s favorite targets, as she finished with 18 kills on a .441 hitting percentage.
Both Duke and San Francisco put down nine service aces, which tied for the second-most this season by the Blue Devils. Freshman middle blocker Amanda Robertson had four of those for Duke in addition to reaching double-digit digs for the eighth time this season. Burling and Moss had two aces apiece, while Catanach had the other.
San Francisco took the first set by a narrow 28-26 win after rallying from a 23-19 deficit. Mandala put down nine of her kills in the first set and made just one attack error to hit .571 in the opener. Her effort was just enough to outpace a five-block effort by the Blue Devils that included three stops from Norman, two from Catanach and one each from Moss and Dunworth. The Dons put the first two points on the board, but Duke rebounded quickly with seven straight points to jump ahead 7-2 and force a San Francisco timeout. The break did little to kill Duke’s momentum though, as the Blue Devils scored two more points out of the timeout. San Francisco would quickly get back on track, however, and fought back with a 12-6 run that cut Duke’s lead to just one point. Following Duke’s first timeout, San Francisco tied the match at 15-15 and managed to swap points with the Blue Devils to an 18-18 score before Duke scored three straight, including a solo block from Dunworth. Leading 21-18, Duke needed just four more points to lock up the first-set win, but UCLA would not make it easy. Duke scored out of the break to jump ahead 22-18, but the Dons fought back to tie the match at 24-24. With the score knotted up and each team just two points away from the win, San Francisco struck first on a service ace from Webster to go ahead 25-24. Moss responded with a kill for the Blue Devils to fight off the match point, but the Dons bounced back to reclaim the lead again on a kill from Mandala. But once again, Duke tied the match, thanks to a kill from Norman. Despite the consecutive bounce-back efforts by the Blue Devils, they could not hold off the Dons. Mandala put down her ninth kill of the set to put San Francisco back at match point just before Alaina Sully clinched the win with a service ace, which was the fourth of the frame for the Dons.
The opening-set loss did little to disturb Duke’s composure as the Blue Devils held off a late San Francisco rally to tie the match with a 25-21 second-set win. Burling connected on four of her seven attacks to hold a .500 hitting percentage through the first two sets, while Norman came up big once again on the defensive end with three more blocks. Smalzer, Catanach and Moss also contributed to the defensive effort and picked up five digs each to help hold the Dons to a .191 clip for the set. Duke fought hard early to build a 16-11 lead and saw that five-point advantage dwindle to no less than three for the remainder of the match. After jumping ahead 22-17, the Blue Devils gave way to a late San Francisco rally that saw their lead trimmed to four points, but this time held on to clinch the win. San Francisco scored twice to fight off Duke’s match point, but Moss locked up the win with her fifth kill of the set.
The third set featured another tight battle and a late comeback on the part of the Blue Devils, but it was San Francisco who held on for the 25-22 win. Gombos had five kills on six attacks in the frame, and the Dons combined for three aces to outpace an errorless 4-for-8 effort from Burling and a 12-assist performance from Catanach. Duke scored four straight early in the match, thanks to Robertson’s serving. Duke’s freshman middle blocker put down two straight service aces, her 36th and 37th of the season, before tossing up another serve that set up a kill from Burling that put Duke ahead 8-4. Duke held the lead until midway through the set when the Dons tied it at 15-15 before eventually taking their first lead at 18-17. They would add three more points to go ahead 21-18 before a Duke timeout and came out of the break to score two more to jump ahead 23-18. The Blue Devils did not go quietly though, and scored four straight points to cut the deficit to two points at 23-21. Dunworth had three points in the rally with a pair of kills and a block alongside Norman. The Dons interrupted the rally on a kill from Gombos to go ahead 24-21, but Dunworth responded with her third kill of the frame. But the two-point deficit would be the closest Duke came to capping the comeback, as Gombos finished off the set with her fifth kill of the frame.
Trailing 2-1 and facing elimination, Duke stuck to its gameplan and spread the ball around, allowing at least four players to take five attacks. Burling did the most with her opportunities and sent down three of her five attacks in addition to putting back three of San Francisco’s attacks. For the fourth straight set, Duke held the early advantage and led by as much as four points at 18-14, but gave up the lead after San Francisco scored five straight points. Duke would re-tie the match on a kill from Dunworth and eventually re-claimed the lead following four unanswered points that came on a joint block from Burling and Dunworth, a kill from Burling and two San Francisco errors. Leading 23-21, Duke gave up a kill to Anna Berger, but got a break when an attack error from Mandala put Duke within one point of clinching the set at 24-22. Mandala made up for the mistake on her next attack with a kill that cut Duke’s lead to 24-23, but Carls ended the threat by putting down a kill on her next attack.
With the match tied at two sets apiece and the momentum favoring the Blue Devils, Duke wasted no time in staking a big lead on the way to a 15-9 match-clinching win in the fifth frame. The Blue Devils traded points with the Dons early in the frame and battled to a 4-4 tie, but took the first big lead of the frame after scoring five straight points, thanks to kills from Catanach, Moss and Norman and a service ace from Burling. The 5-0 run put Duke ahead 9-4 before San Francisco finally got back on the board following a Duke service error. The fault was just a blip in Duke’s 7-1 run though, as the Blue Devils got two more points out of Moss on a kill and an ace. Trailing 11-5, San Francisco finally cut into Duke’s momentum by scoring three straight, but the Blue Devils responded by calling a timeout and following with three scores on a Dunworth kill and a pair of attack errors by the Dons. Ahead 14-8 and needing just one more point to clinch the match, Duke went to Carls for the final point, and she came through with a kill to lock up the win.
The win moves the Blue Devils into the second round of the tournament where they will face the winner of No. 9 UCLA and LSU. The match will begin at 4 p.m. (ET) and will be broadcast on the web, courtesy of CBS College Sports All Access. The link is available on Duke’s schedule page.