Duke fans rejoiced Friday, as Ade Owokoniran finally returned from a five-game stint on the injured list. The team desperately need more offensive firepower and knew heading into the weekend that having Owokoniran back was key to bouncing back from a three-game losing streak.
The first game of the weekend's Hofstra Invitational in Hempstead, N.Y., was one of its toughest tests of the season, and the Blue Devils proved they were up to the test at the David S. Mack Physical Education Center. Duke defeated No. 14 Oregon in a five-set nailbiter (9-25, 28-26, 28-26, 19-25, 15-13) Friday afternoon, before splitting their doubleheader on Saturday, falling to St. John's in four sets (23-25, 21-25, 25-20, 12-25) before regrouping and besting Hofstra in four (25-21, 25-23, 19-25, 25-21).
Head coach Jolene Nagel was very proud of her crew after its big upset against Oregon.
"This was a really important win for our team considering where we are in our development," Nagel told GoDuke.com. "I'm really excited that our team had the fight to pick themselves up after the first set, turn the tables and play like they were capable of playing. I'm excited to see the fight they showed against a quality opponent. We will learn a lot from this hard fought match and it will be [a] confidence boost for our team."
Performances of the weekend:
Ade Owokoniran: Owokoniran provided the squad with a spark that led to a successful weekend. The sophomore finished with double-digit kills in each of the games. It was as if her presence on the court set everything that had been going so right for the Blue Devils (7-6) back in motion.
Gracie Johnson: Johnson shook off her last game and had herself a nice weekend, highlighted by a team-high 14 kills against Oregon. Though she made far too many hitting errors—including a subpar effort against St. John's (8-5)—Johnson continues to progress as a hitter and will look to continue to compliment Owokoniran.
Camille Nazor: A concern coming into the week was how the freshman setter Nazor was going to play. In previous matches, Nazor showed signs of serious skill and flexed her innate ability to find the soft spots in the defenses of her opponents. Offensively, Nazor had 15 or more assists in each game, with a high of 25 against Oregon (4-5).
Lily Cooper: Once again, the looming presence of Lily Cooper proved to be a nuisance for teams all weekend. Cooper had 11 kills against the Ducks and put up a nine-block performance against Hofstra (7-5).
Mackenzie Cole: Cole has been one of the few constants in a season of so much chaos. Cole had big games against Oregon and Hofstra, finishing with 19 and 18 digs, respectively.
Conference play will begin this upcoming week against No. 23 Florida State. Duke looks to capture the momentum from their successful weekend and roll their way through the ACC. With the return of Owokoniran, the Blue Devils are capable of a whole lot more.
Maybe Duke can punch their ticket to the postseason dance for the second season in a row. Maybe the Blue Devils can make a miracle happen this December and make a run . Only time will tell, as this team has proven time and time again how impossible it is to predict this wild ride of a season.
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Jake Piazza is a Trinity senior and was sports editor of The Chronicle's 117th volume.