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DURHAM, N.C. – The 14th-ranked and sixth-seeded Duke women’s tennis team kicks off the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Championship Thursday as it makes the short trip to Cary, N.C., to take on 11th-seeded Virginia Tech in the opening round of the event.  Blue Devils earned a six-seed after posting a 14-8 overall record, and a 5-5 mark in conference play, and are slated to face the Hokies Thursday at 3 p.m. at the Cary Tennis Park.

“This is what we do all of our work for, going back to all of our conditioning in the fall, early mornings or whatever it is,” said head coach Jamie Ashworth. “They know this is a time of the year that we need to gear up and get ready to go. The last couple of weeks we have struggled, but after talking to the girls this week they are definitely excited to play. They are looking forward to putting everything else aside and just concentrating on what we need to do this weekend.”

Duke has a history of success in the Atlantic Coast Conference, claiming 20 regular season titles and 17 ACC Championships, the most of any team in the conference, including 14 straight from 1988-2001. Since the first tournament in 1986, the Blue Devils have tallied a league record 62 wins, compiling an all-time record of 62-10 (.861). In addition, the squad has made it to the finals of the tournament in 20 of the past 25 seasons. Last season, the squad recorded a perfect 11-0 record en route to the regular season conference title, before cruising past N.C. State, Virginia and North Carolina to claim the program’s 17th ACC Championship.

This season, the Blue Devils jumped out to a 4-0 start in conference play, but went 1-5 in the final six matches after being limited to just five players April 6. This is the first time since the 2007 campaign the team only recorded five wins during the ACC slate, and only the third time under Ashworth.

The Blue Devils boast four players in the top-125 of the latest Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) singles rankings, headlined by junior Hanna Mar at No. 27. Mar enters the event with a 7-6 singles record in dual matches this season, including a 3-3 mark in ACC play. In addition to Mar, the squad is represented in the rankings by sophomore Ester Goldfeld at No. 50, senior Mary Clayton tabbed at No. 109 and junior Marianne Jodoin listed at No. 119.

The match against Virginia Tech Thursday will be the 19th meeting in program history, with the Blue Devils owning a perfect 18-0 record in those matches. The two teams met earlier this season when the Blue Devils topped Virginia Tech, 4-1, in Durham, N.C., and have only met once in the ACC Tournament, when Duke swept the Hokies, 4-0, during the 2007 campaign. The Hokies enter the tournament with a 13-11 overall record, including a 2-9 ledger in conference play.

“I think it starts at the top with our leadership,” Ashworth said. “We have one senior and she has done a great job of keeping everybody grounded and keeping everybody focused, and it’s almost the next-man theory. They understand that no one feels sorry for us, and now we are at the point where we need to go out with something to prove. We can prove that we can win these matches, and we can prove that even though we only have five players, it’s going to take a heck of an effort to beat us.”

The Blue Devils begin the quest for their 18th ACC title Thursday at 3 p.m. against Virginia Tech, with the winner slated to return to the courts to take on third-seeded Virginia Friday at 3 p.m. in the quarterfinals.

For live stats, updates and video, visit the ACC Tennis Championship Site by clicking here or follow along on twitter (@Duke_WTEN or @ACCWTennis).


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