Seniors lead the way as Duke volleyball sweeps Virginia

With just three weeks left in the regular season, the Blue Devils could not afford any slip-ups in two road games as they fight for an NCAA tournament bid.

Not only did Duke avoid a momentum-breaking loss—the Blue Devils did so without dropping a set in consecutive games for the first time this year.

By Juan Bermudez / The Chronicle

Freshman setter Cindy Marina and the Blue Devils have won six straight games.

Duke swept Virginia Tech Friday night 3-0 (25-16, 25-17, 25-15) at Cassell Coliseum in Blacksburg, Va., before traveling to take on Pittsburgh Sunday afternoon at Fitzgerald Field House. Looking for its second RPI top-50 win of the year and second in as many weeks, the Blue Devils delivered perhaps their best performance of the year, knocking off the Panthers 3-0 (25-22, 28-26, 25-23) in a trio of tight sets.

The senior tandem of middle blocker Jordan Tucker and defensive specialist Sasha Karelov continued leading the way for Duke, as Tucker recorded double-digit kills in both games and Karelov had double-digit digs in both contests as the Blue Devil defense stymied two more ACC opponents.

“Our senior leadership in general just keeps bringing us along. You have Jordan with performances like that, you have Sasha who had 19 digs and you have Chloe [DiPasquale] who’s just being really solid back there having eight kills herself,” Duke head coach Jolene Nagel said Sunday. “Our seniors are doing a good job of performing individually but they are also motivating others to succeed, which is helping the team.”

The Blue Devils (20-6, 14-2 in the ACC) maintained their second-place position in the ACC by first earning their second win of the year against the Hokies. Duke’s defense shut down Virginia Tech for the second time this year, holding the Hokies (9-17, 4-11) to a .127 hitting percentage.

Unlike the first matchup between the teams, when the Blue Devils’ intensity slipped and Virginia Tech won a set, Duke was steady Friday, dominating all three sets en route to victory. Tucker paced the offense with 11 kills, and four other Blue Devils had at least five as Duke took full advantage of 10 Hokie service errors.

Errors were the story in Sunday’s game against Pittsburgh too. The Panthers (20-8, 11-5) entered the week with the No. 27 RPI in the nation—the Blue Devils stood 75th—but struggled to close out sets in large part because of at least seven attacking errors in each set and seven total service errors.

Pittsburgh had more kills, assists and digs, but Duke was more efficient with its .256 hitting percentage to get the win. Tucker and sophomore middle blocker Leah Meyer led the way for the Blue Devils, combining for 27 kills and 11 blocks. The duo helped Duke an early 18-12 deficit in the first set with a 13-4 run, teaming up for nine kills to give the Blue Devils a lead on the road.

“Pitt was running away with it and we weren’t playing like we were capable of; we weren’t blocking like we were capable, digging like we were capable, controlling the first touch like we were capable,” Nagel said. “So it was great to see them pull together and start to execute one point at a time so they could get back into that set. It was huge for this match.”

The Panthers were the ones playing behind in the second set, which was tight until the end. Duke built a 23-21 edge before a Pittsburgh 3-1 run, but eventually a key kill from freshman Samantha Amos and a block by Tucker and freshman Jamie Stivers gave the Blue Devils a 2-0 lead.

Duke’s resilience was tested in the back-and-forth frame, as the Blue Devils had used all of their substitutions and timeouts.

“Whoever was out there on the court—that team had to figure out a way to pull together and get it done,” Nagel said.

After coming up short in the first two sets, the Panther rally fell of the rails in the third set when Pittsburgh blew a 23-22 lead with three straight errors—two of them service errors—to lose the match. Duke played a clean match with 14 attack errors and only one service error, winning its sixth straight ACC contest in the process.

The Blue Devils will look for another top-30 RPI win when they host Florida State Friday before taking on Miami Sunday on Senior Night. Following its final regular-season home game, Duke will hit the road for a showdown at No. 8 North Carolina, which currently sits one game ahead of the Blue Devils in the league standings.

More strong play from Duke could keep its ACC title hopes alive, in addition to bolstering its blossoming NCAA tournament prospects.

“It has been fun to watch these girls play because each day they come into practice they’re focused, they’re working to make themselves better and as a result make our team better,” Nagel said. “They’ve been just putting their nose to the grindstone trying to make that happen and it’s been showing up on the court, which is really exciting.”

Miesha Tate announces retirement after loss at UFC

It’s the end of a rollercoaster career for Miesha Tate.

From realizing her dream and winning the UFC women’s bantamweight title when she defeated Holly Holm early this year to losing it by devastating first-round knockout at the hands of Amanda Nunes shortly thereafter, Tate has just about done it all.

And now it’s time for her to say goodbye.

After losing to Raquel Pennington at UFC 205, the former champion shocked the MMA world by announcing her retirement from the sport at Madison Square Garden.

“It’s not my time right now, I’ve been doing this for over a decade,” Tate said. “Thank you so much for being here, I love this sport forever but it’s not my time anymore.”

The 30-year-old ends her career with a record of 18-7. Although she reached the pinnacle of her career by beating Holm for the banatamweight title in March, she’ll likely be remembered for her heated rivalry with Ronda Rousey that started in Strikeforce and carried over to the UFC.

She dropped the Strikeforce title to Rousey in 2012 and the two had a vitriolic relationship with her ever since.

The two were coaches on “The Ultimate Fighter,” which led to a rematch that saw Tate lose to Rousey a second time. But Tate never gave up and finally claimed the gold by beating Holm at UFC 196. She dropped it to Nunes at UFC 200 and failed in her bounce back attempt against Pennington, who she coached on “The Ultimate Fighter.”

Evidently, it was time for Tate to pass the torch.

Kenseth’s title hopes erased after bizarre turn of events

AVONDALE, Ariz. (AP) — As Matt Kenseth left the garage at Phoenix International Raceway, his crew chief hung his arm over the driver in an attempt to lift their spirits.

Kenseth had been two laps away from victory and a spot in next week’s championship race.

Instead, he had a wrecked race car and a pink slip from NASCAR’s playoffs.

“I felt so bad for him. He drove his heart out all day long and it’s just one of those things that happens,” said team owner Joe Gibbs.

It was a split-second decision that cost Kenseth his season, but opened the door for teammate Kyle Busch and Joey Logano, his most despised rival a year ago.

A late caution forced Kenseth, only two trips around Phoenix away from the win, to withstand a two-lap overtime shootout to collect his checkered flag. He was in the lead and on the outside of Alex Bowman when Busch bumped into Bowman.

Bowman bobbled but was still on the bottom line as he and Kenseth entered the corner. Kenseth dropped low because spotter Chris Osborne told him he was clear, but he and Bowman instead collided.

Just like that, Kenseth was done.

“It’s a team effort. Win as a team, lose as a team. I can’t blame Chris,” Kenseth said. “I didn’t see what happened. He said I was clear, so I started looking toward the corner and got turned around. So many things happen in a hurry. All I know is I was looking at the corner, trying to think about getting off turn 2 to try to go win the race.”

The sequence allowed both Logano and Busch to advance into next Sunday’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. But Busch was initially focused only on redeeming himself with Kenseth because he believed his contact with Bowman on the restart triggered the Kenseth crash.

Joe Gibbs Racing had four drivers in the round of eight and was vying to sweep the championship field. Carl Edwards went to Phoenix already locked into the finale, but three Gibbs drivers were vying for the remaining two slots. They dismissed all notion of cutthroat competition, and the four drivers spent Saturday morning hiking a nearby mountain together.

So Busch felt awful about Kenseth’s turbulent turn.

“Right now it feels pretty (expletive), but tomorrow it might feel a lot better,” Busch said. “I’m not sure, depends on what Matt’s interpretation is and whether or not he can forgive. I just feel really bad about what happened there on that last restart. The 20 (Kenseth) should have been the Gibbs car to go through.”

Osborne, though, accepted blame for the accident after falsely indicating it was safe to move to the bottom lane. He posted on Twitter an apology for his role in the Kenseth’s Chase ending. He said this error was “on me!!”

Curiously, there’s a second defining moment of Kenseth’s season that also was linked to a spotter.

On the last lap of the Daytona 500, Kenseth threw a block that backfired and helped teammate Denny Hamlin win the race. At the time, Osborne was recovering from a car accident, and there was speculation that the replacement spotter contributed to Kenseth’s incorrect decision to block.

Kenseth, meanwhile, failed to advance to the finale in all three of its years since the creation of the elimination format.

Logano is going back for the second time in three years and got there by winning an elimination race for the second time of these playoffs. He’ll be trying to give Roger Penske a season sweep during its 50th anniversary season. Simon Pagenaud won the IndyCar title in September.

“I’ve never felt this good about a win before,” Logano said. “There was so much on the line and everyone brings their A-game when it comes to winning championships and this team did it.”

Busch finished second and earned a chance to defend last year’s title. He’ll meet Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson, who is seeking a record-tying seventh championship, in Homestead.

Eliminated from the playoffs on Sunday were Kevin Harvick, an eight-time winner at Phoenix who had raced in the last two finales, as well as his Stewart-Haas Racingteammate Kurt Busch. Gibbs drivers Kenseth and Denny Hamlin were also knocked out of the field.

Knicks fans will have to hold their noses to cheer for this bunch

Unless there was still some discounted Domino’s Pizza intrigue to be settled, Wednesday’s Nets-Knicks was over. With 30 seconds left, the Knicks led, 110-91.

That’s when Brooklyn’s Rondae Hollis-Jefferson tried to score on a layup, but was knocked hard to the floor by Mindaugas Kuzminskas. Knicks teammate Willy Hernangomez then reached to help Hollis-Jefferson up, to demonstrate his concern for an unintentionally hard, potentially dangerous foul and to show some humanity.

But then new Knicks “firebrand” Brandon Jennings yanked Hernangomez away from Hollis-Jefferson. Didn’t matter if the fallen was hurt, that it was garbage time or that Hernangomez was compelled to let an opponent know he doesn’t take either’s professional status lightly.

Jennings, ejected from the Knicks’ next game — his sixth career ejection — wanted Hernangomez and the rest of us to know that there will be none of that, not in his house, not on his watch!

Afterward, Hernangomez, who should’ve told Jennings to mind his own basketball business, was confused but newly schooled in the ways of NBA and American sports culture: You demand respect in exchange for none.

“I’m not going to help anyone again in the game,” he said. “In Spain, we know every player there. Someone fouls him hard, you try to help him. Not here. Not anymore. Maybe a Spanish guy from my country.”

Helping an opponent to his feet — similar to trying to break one’s fall as he tries to save a loose ball while steaming toward an opponent’s bench (wouldn’t Jennings expect such benevolence?) — is not a sign of weakness.

This is another Knicks team even minimally discerning basketball fans will have to swallow extra hard to root for.

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Knicks rookie Willy HernangomezPhoto: Getty Images

Even MSG’s Mike Breen and Clyde Frazier had a hard time keeping their sunny sides up on Friday, as the Knicks were hit with six T’s against the Celtics. After Carmelo Anthony was tossed in the second quarter for two technicals after one whistle, they took Anthony’s side — he may have been unfairly whistled for a foul. But then, they asked, after his first T, “Why didn’t he just walk away?” from referee Tony Brothers.

The next day it was reported and unilaterally “confirmed” by Anthony that he and Brothers have a “history.” Don’t know about that, but what about Anthony’s history? That was his seventh NBA ejection!
Then there’s new Knick Joakim Noah, the easy-to-anger anti-militarist who refused to attend a team meal with cadets at West Point.

Wednesday, in a Veterans Day salute, he was the one Knick who didn’t wear game-issued, NBA “Hoops for Troops” socks.

Is there no one in Noah’s milieu — Phil Jackson, perhaps — to explain to him some indisputable facts of life, specifically his?

Noah’s a first-generation American of a black French father. Is he unable to consider what would be if not for the combined Allied Forces’ Normandy invasion of June 6, 1944, the start of the liberation of France from the master race, genocidal Nazis?

Or would Noah have condemned such a military operation? Would he, and his father before him, have even been born — or born free — had it not been for the U.S. military, thousands of men, including West Pointers, buried in France, many in graves marked, “Known Only To God?”

And so the one Knick who should get it far more than the rest is the one who doesn’t get it at all. It’s nauseating.

Then there’s another new Knick, Derrick Rose, who, at 28 and a college man — Memphis — exhibits the discretion of a slug. At his welcome-to-the-Knicks news conference, shown on MSG, a vulgarity so casually flowed from his mouth he provided evidence of zero social awareness.

Then his preseason was abridged by a court case in which he and pals admitted to have practiced the Triangle Offense — during three-on-one sex.

Again, these Knicks, unless we only consider that they’re Knicks — and nothing else, better or worse — are tough to root for. To borrow from post-election protestors, “Not my team!”

Perhaps we’ll take the too-late advice Breen and Frazier gave Anthony, Friday, and “just walk away.” And, having helped push us out, we won’t need Brandon Jennings to help us up.

When broadcasts become vocabulary tests …

“Which way to the attic?”


It’s as if someone pulled a switch that removed plain talk, replacing it with long-form silliness, as if unintentionally funny is the new funny.

Saturday during Nets-Suns, YES play-by-player Ryan Ruocco first told us that Nets’ coach Kenny Atkinson is impressed with Justin Hamilton’s “verticality.”

Hamilton has the ability, said Rucco, “to go up, vertically.”

Moments later, when the Nets’ 6-foot-9 forward Luis Scola blocked a shot, Ruocco said he was able to do so by “going up, vertically.”

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The Nets’ Justin Hamilton, “going up, vertically”Photo: AP

Unless one can “go up” horizontally, I think he meant by jumping.

Saturday, ESPN’s Steve Levy, deep into a long — four minutes — replay review stoppage in Pitt-Clemson, said, “We are right next to the instant-replay booth.”

ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, posing as an expert, Friday, discussed NFL strategy and stats with Mark Schlereth. Smith once told ESPN’s audience that teams looking to tie or take the lead late in games should try field goals on third down because, if they miss, “they can try again on fourth down.”

Then there’s the King of Colossally Wrong Comedy, Mike Francesa, who Friday told CBS’s Gary Danielson the top college teams are “home free.” The next day, Nos. 2, 3 and 4 — Michigan, Clemson and Washington — lost.

‘We’ll be right back after this commercial break!’

What’s killing NFL ratings? Here’s one: Rams-Jets, replay stoppage to determine/guess the spot after a third-down play, so off to commercials. Back from commercials, it’s ruled a fourth down. Punt. Back to commercials.

FOX sideline reporter Peter Schrager, during Rams-Jets, wasn’t called on a lot, but made his observations — delivered concisely so not to intrude — count. He saw, knew, reported what was worth knowing.

So 9-0 Washington, Saturday on FOX, forsakes its school colors to come out dressed in Nike Bad-Boy Black, and the eight-point home favorite loses by 13 to USC. Kismet.

ESPN sideline college football apologist Jerry Punch, during Baylor-Oklahoma, reported that massively and perhaps criminally scandalized Baylor — he didn’t report that — is at a disadvantage as per assistant coach Phil Bennett’s plaint that, “We have 63 scholarship players left, that’s all!”

Shohei Otani watches the flight of his ground-rule double

Most of us were not around to watch Babe Ruth in his prime, when he was not only baseball’s premier power hitter, but also a true pitching ace who won 78 games between 1915-1918.

We do have Japanese superstar Shohei Otani though. The 22-year-old pitcher and outfielder is making his case to be baseball’s best two-way player since ‘The Babe,” and his legend only continued to grow early Sunday when he launched a baseball that got lodged in the panels of the Tokyo Dome roof.

Otani and Team Japan were taking on the Netherlands in a World Baseball Classic exhibition game when he launched the epic moonshot.

Per the Tokyo Dome ground rules, Otani was awarded with a double. Per our own vision, that was one of the most impressive feats of power we’ve seen in a long time. If not for the roof, it might still be rising and carrying.

Japan went on to win the game 12-10, finishing a four-game exhibition series against the Netherlands and Mexico with a 3-1 record. Now the focus again turns to whether or not Otani will be posted by the Nippon Ham Fighters, allowing him to test his skills in MLB.

There’s a growing sentiment that won’t happen. At least not this winter. If it does, he would immediately become the most intriguing player on the market because of his age and his skill set.

This past season, Otani was 10-4 with a league-best 1.86 ERA and 174 strikeouts in 140 innings in Nippon Professional Baseball. His fastball frequently reaches 100 mph, and he has the ability to make hitters look absolutely silly.

At the plate, Otani hit .322/.416/.588 with 22 homers and 67 RBIs in 2016. His 1.004 OPS also would have led the league, but he didn’t have enough plate appearances to qualify.

The decision MLB teams would have to make is which role they value him in more. Obviously, they’d want him to settle on one position, but his remarkable versatility and ability to change directions if needed is pretty appealing. And no, he hasn’t regularly faced major league competition as a pitcher or hitter, so there would be adjustment in both areas.

We’ll just say this: Shohei Otani is one of the most fascinating players to come around in a long, long time. We’re all anxious to see what his ceiling, no pun intended, truly is.