DURHAM, N.C. – East Tennessee State brought an end to Duke’s six-match win streak, handing the Blue Devils a 3-1 (20-25, 25-19, 15-25, 25-27) setback in the Duke Invitational finale Saturday afternoon at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Duke (6-3) received 14 kills from freshman outside hitter Ade Owokoniran, but was unable to consistently thwart ETSU (8-2). Bucs outside hitter Leah Clayton led all players with 15 kills, while AJ Lux and Kaela Massey had 14 and 10, respectively.
Missing two regulars in the starting rotation, Duke was forced to shuffle its lineup. ETSU capitalized, hitting .441 with 18 kills in the opening stanza. The Blue Devils found their rhythm in the second, using four blocks to limit ETSU to a .091 clip and tie the match at 1-1.
“It’s disappointing to not be at our best,” said head coach Jolene Nagel. “But at the same time, I’m really glad this happened to our young team. We had to deal with some adversity and make some adjustments. We saw some people step up to the plate. We need to be able to work through these things when they happen because it’s not going to be the last time we have to make some adjustments in the midst of a match.”
The Bucs controlled the third and appeared to have the fourth in hand before a late Duke rally nearly sent the match to a fifth frame. Down seven points, the Blue Devils clawed their way back to tie the set at 24-24, fighting off two match points in the process. Jessi Bartholomew had the kill to tie the frame, then added a solo block to put Duke on top, 25-24. But the Bucs captured the next three points on a Duke service error, Blue Devil attack error and Clayton service ace to walk away with the four-set victory.
Freshman middle blocker Lily Cooper ended the day with eight kills on 10 attempts, while fellow middle blocker Leah Meyer had seven kills. Freshman libero Mackenzie Cole picked up a match-high 21 digs, good for her fifth match of the season with 20 or more digs.
“Our middles were hanging tough and being very effective,” Nagel added. “Our serving at times was good and allowed us to stay in it. We had different people playing different positions. We were trying to find what would help us be successful today. We’re going to learn a whole lot from today.”
Meyer and Cole both earned spots on the all-tournament team, joining Coastal Carolina’s Kylie Manning, Cincinnati’s Jordan Thompson and Erica Kostelca, and ETSU’s Lux and Alyssa Kvarta.
In the midst of a seven-match home stand, the Blue Devils next welcome Elon to Cameron, hosting the Phoenix at 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, September 12.