Duke held off the Colorado State volleyball team on Friday night 25-27, 25-20, 32-30, 20-25, 18-20, despite the Rams’ 16 blocks in the match and a 14-10 lead in the final set.
CSU was one point away from victory when Duke called a timeout and was able to collect themselves. The Blue Devils rallied off five straight points to go up 15-14 before the Rams were able to get back on the board.
It would go back and forth until Duke took a 19-18 lead from a kill by preseason All-ACC hitter Leah Meyer. The final blow would come from Cadie Bates as sophomore Paulina Hougaard-Jensen was unable to block it at the net, giving Bates her 20th kill of the match.
Blocks seemed to come in waves for the Rams as they had seven total blocks in their 32-30 third set win, but had none in the next set, a 25-20 loss. In the final set they had three total blocks, but could not seem to stifle Duke when they got on their late match role.
“I am very disappointed,” head coach Tom Hilbert said. “We’re up 14-10, we should win that set. We let balls fly through the block several times in a row…got some pretty decent swings, couldn’t get kills.”
One problem with the blocking might have been from an injury to senior Sanja Cizmic, who came into the season with an abdominal strain during the offseason. Hilbert said she tweaked her ankle and that was part of the reason she was on the bench for most of the match after the second set.
This forced sophomore Katie Oleksak to fill into more of a blocking role, recording the second most blocks on the team with 3.5 total.
“I think our blocking could have been a little stronger tonight, but I think we also adjusted throughout the game,” Oleksak said. “They were killing us on the line in the beginning, we kind of adjusted with that, but unfortunately, in the end that fifth set they just kept going through.”
Sophomore Kirstie Hillyer had a great night at the net with 19 kills and .317 hitting percentage to go along with her 6.5 total blocks. Hougaard-Jensen also did well offensively with 11 kills and a team high .429 hitting percentage.
But this game stings for the Rams as they had four opportunities to end the match and start the year with a win against Duke.
“We got to do more if we want to be as good as we can be,” Hilbert said.
Oleksak was able to tie her career high for assists in a match with 59 and sophomore Amanda Young had 25 digs in her debut as the team’s libero, 15 more than any match she played in last season. Freshman defensive specialist Maddi Foutz made her way into the starting lineup and added in 13 digs, the second most for the Rams.
However, digs were hard to come by on serves for the Rams as they allowed seven aces and had six receiving errors, three coming from the injured Cizmic.
The Rams also struggled to serve as they massed only five aces to go along with 13 service errors.
“We served very fluffy most of the night,” Hilbert said.
Hilbert also expressed his surprise in the nervousness of his team despite being at home in front of a large crowd of 4,589 people.
“There is a lot of jitters in an environment like this,” Hilbert said. “We are the home team but there were still a lot of jitters. I think that caused some of (the struggles) early.”
The Rams will not have to wait long to see the court again as they play again on Saturday against the University of Central Florida, who are ranked higher than Duke in RPI. The match is set to begin at 8 p.m. MT.
Collegian sports reporter Austin White can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ajwrules44.