PITTSBURGH — For 14 years, basketball has comprised so much of Olivia Westphal’s life, but for 13 months, a ruptured Achilles tendon tested the Duquesne Women’s Basketball redshirt freshman guard, while also shaping what has become her comeback.
Westphal first took the court in Monday’s season opener against Point Park and down the stretch had a crucial role in Friday’s 77-69 comeback victory over Brown.
“I went from being the hype man on the bench to finally taking my first three pointer on Monday, so I was really excited and proud of our team,” Westphal said with a growing smile. “It was definitely very mentally tough watching everybody play basketball. Not being able to play the game I’ve loved since I was eight was difficult.”
Under normal circumstances, this injury can take anywhere from 9-to-12 months to recover from, but Westphal had an abnormally thin Achilles which added an additional recovery.
Westphal’s injury was the first of three that significantly affected members of last season’s Duquesne team.
A CONSTANT FAMILY
If one had not known any better, seeing Westphal bury three-point baskets on top of each other in a practice, the appearance was that this has been a fixture for this Duquesne team, but in reality, coach Dan Burt revealed that she had only been cleared for 10 days, though he conceded it may have been more recent than that.
Regardless as she effortlessly sank baskets that afternoon, it only helped her growing confidence, with her teammates support growing louder with each make.
It was that same family concept that sold Westphal on Duquesne. Both sides began dialogue during the former’s eighth grade year and Duquesne was her first offer.
With some coaches came and went, the Bethel Park native was impressed by Duquesne’s consistent dialogue.
Whether it was on basketball or about Juan Pablo Galavis’s latest gaffe on The Bachelor, the coaching staff was all ears. Everything was on the table, and it was those connections that provided comfort in Westphal’s decision.
One of Westphal’s first phone calls about her decision was to Megan McConnell with the pair playing AAU basketball together since the former was in fifth grade and the latter sixth.
“We’ve had that bond for so many years and when she committed here and I told her I was committing here, she almost cried,” recalled Westphal. “It was so exciting.”
TAKING THE NEXT STEP
Westphal put in tireless work to return to the court, though there was still anxiety about all of the firsts that were about to come her way.
First game. First on-court action. First shot. First Free throw.
It all became a reality Monday against Point Park with she was brought in with 2:53 remaining in the third quarter.
There appeared to be a certain determination for Westphal to find success on the court, which only grew when her first three-point shot was off the mark.
Following her first career steal, Westphal missed a transition layup and later two free throws, but she would return to the bench without a point.
Burt gave it one more try, and both were rewarded when teammate Precious Johnson found Westphal for a three-point basket.
“I had a lot of anxiety because you never know when your name is going to be called,” Westphal said. “You just always have to be ready. Mentally I was prepared, physically all of my doctors got me ready. The firsts are definitely the hardest, so once you have one down, it just keeps going.”
Duquesne had its troubles in the first half against Brown and were unable to gain as much ground as desired, though offensive coordinator Vanessa Abel made two crucial adjustments and Burt gave Westphal the nod with 6:34 remaining in the third quarter.
It did not take Westphal long to get into the game, as she cut to the right corner of the court, where her longtime teammate McConnell fed her a bounce pass and the subsequent three-point shot hit nothing but net.
“Meg is obviously a great point guard, and she can find the open player like it’s nothing,” Westphal explained. “She has the confidence in me when she passes the ball that it’s going to go in. She has the confidence in me, and I have the confidence in myself.”
3Q | That’s Liv Westphal @Liv_westphal from threeeee!
— Duquesne Women’s Basketball (@DuqWBB) November 12, 2022
All of a sudden, Duquesne made the game into a one-possession affair and that was one of three triples Westphal had on the evening.
Her play left a clear impression on Burt, who rewarded Westphal’s effort by keeping her in at the end of the game, and that was rewarded as her +18 was the best of anyone to see the floor.
Burt saw the quick release on her three-point shots but has been most impressed with her advanced IQ throughout this process.
“We really didn’t know what we have because she’d be injured for so long,” admitted the 10th-year coach. “Every time she does something like this is a revelation and it makes you just happier and happier for what she’s doing.”
Westphal further rewarded Burt’s faith when with 58 seconds left, she drew a charge, falling through the paint after colliding with Brown’s Mackenzie Leahy.
“For him to have confidence in me for an end-of-game situation to knock down free throws makes me feel really good about myself,” she said. “Just working to get back was obviously extremely hard, but they were very confident in me and never let me get down about myself. All of the coaches always hyped me up and ask me to shoot.”
4Q | @Liv_westphal from deep AGAIN!
Get used to it
— Duquesne Women’s Basketball (@DuqWBB) November 12, 2022
She was not done though as she buried three free throws and then earned a second charge, as Isabella Mauricio got called for a moving screen, after which the huddle all raced over to greet their teammate.
“I’m really happy for Liv, she’s had a long year,” Duquesne guard Tess Myers said. “She worked her butt off to get back on the court and her time is coming. She showed up, was amazing for us and I think we really needed that.”
Westphal was all smiles as she left the court, knowing that in the 15 minutes she saw the court, she made such a positive impact as Duquesne was making a comeback.
“She deserved this, and I think she needed this a lot,” said McConnell. “After everything she’s been through, she deserves a night like this, to be celebrated.”
Photo credit: Fred Vuich/Duquesne Athletics