Editor's note: This article has been altered to reflect Duke's newly-announced schedule that was released Sept. 4.
When looking at Duke’s 2020 roster, one might think someone forgot to update last year’s. This is a very similar team to a season ago, with a few exceptions. While similar isn’t exactly what Blue Devil fans were hoping for in a new season, the familiar faces may prove to be an asset. The team has strong chemistry and has bonded over the hardships of a rocky 2019 campaign.
Last year saw Duke’s worst ACC record since 1998, the year before Jolene Nagel was hired as head coach, and was a true test of the team’s devotion to the sport and program. Every match seemed to go the same way: the Blue Devils start with a strong performance that kicks life into their opponent, who proceed to run away with the win. This disappointing pattern was also a beacon of hope, however, as it showed brief glimpses of the team’s true potential.
New player to watch: Georgia Stavrinides
One of Duke’s only two incoming freshmen hails from Nicosia, Cyprus, but her skill is known all over Europe. Stavrinides has seen action on the Cyprus Women’s National Volleyball team, which has taken her from Ukraine to the Mediterranean. Standing at 6-foot-2, the middle blocker bolsters Duke’s already proficient game on the net. With the aid and leadership of fellow middle blocker/outside hitter Ade Owokoniran, Stavrinides will be more than prepared to reject any ball below her 9-foot-6 block jump.
Returning player to watch: Ade Owokoniran
Some would say this team lives and dies with Owokoniran. By far the most reliable and lethal player on the court, the Raleigh, N.C., native is returning for her junior season after an inspiring sophomore campaign. Owokoniran led the offense with 296 kills last season, and one could argue that she still hasn’t even reached her full potential. To an extent, the success of this team could hinge on the opportunities that Owokoniran gets. That is, if the ball doesn’t work its way to her on the majority of points, the team could be at risk of losing offensive momentum.
Most anticipated matchup: North Carolina, Oct. 23/Oct. 24
A Duke-North Carolina matchup is always going to draw attention, though the Blue Devils will be out for blood more than usual this time around—two of the team’s most heartbreaking losses of last season came at the hands of the Tar Heels. Both matches saw some of the strongest starts for Duke but also showcased the mid-match collapse that plagued the Blue Devils so often. The widest losing margin in any set between the two teams was seven, yet Duke was only able to take one game from its rivals across the two matches. This year’s matchups will be another pair of emotional, and winnable, ones for the Blue Devils.
If history has taught us one thing, it’s that the ACC should fear Duke volleyball after a bad season. In 2012, Duke had one of its worst seasons of all time, finishing 6-14 in the ACC. The very next season, the team bounced back to achieve an 18-2 ACC record, winning the ACC championship. If the 2019 season served as a wake-up call in the same way as 2012, the Blue Devils could repeat history and return to their former ACC glory.
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Fortunately for Duke, it just went through the worst-case scenario last season, so there is nowhere to go but up this year. It’s simply not a possibility for a coach as experienced as Nagel to watch her team struggle in that way and not make major changes in the offseason. While her adjustments are yet to be seen, they could potentially fail to address the root of Duke’s problems well enough to show major improvement.
Prediction: 5-3, 7th in the ACC
Editor's note: This is a part of The Chronicle's series of previews for Duke's fall sports, the rest of which can be found here.