Big East – Pittsburgh | Seton Hall | Syracuse | Villanova
Big Ten – Indiana | Nebraska | Purdue
Pac-12 – Arizona State | Colorado | Oregon | Utah
SEC – Mississippi State
WCC – Gonzaga | Loyola Marymount | San Francisco
After reaching the postseason for the second straight season in 2010 and logging the program’s first postseason win since 2003 as well, DePaul looked to be moving on up towards a potential NCAA Tournament berth in 2011. Instead, the Blue Demons nosedived into the Big East basement, winning just three games all year and finishing dead last in the sixteen team conference. It was a stunning turn of events considering the progress that had been made over the two previous seasons in the Windy City. DePaul had been long suffering members of Conference USA, really up until 2003 when John Wilson’s team set the bar that lasts to this day for the Blue Demons.
DePaul that season put together a fourteen win season and won the Conference USA Tournament, punching the ticket for the club’s only NCAA Tournament appearance up to this point. With the club finally beginning to establish a foothold in C-USA, a move out to the Big East looked ill-timed, even if it had the potential to open up new opportunities for the Blue Demons. Those fears looked to be well founded in 2006, the team’s second season in its new home, when DePaul went 3-13-2 overall, including 0-10-1 in the league, a dreadful year that cost Wilson his job.
In stepped Erin Chastain, sister-in-law to former USWNT star Brandi, but results were hardly anything to shout about, with the team only winning a combined four league matches in Chastain’s first two seasons, missing out on the postseason in both years. At long last though, DePaul finally made a breakthrough in 2009, Chastain delivering the program’s first winning season since that 2003 triumph. DePaul also made a long awaited return to the postseason, the team’s first appearance since their move to the Big East. With the big improvement came bigger expectations for the Blue Demons going into 2010. In many ways, DePaul met those expectations, finishing fourth in their division of the Big East and beating Pittsburgh in the Big East Tournament.
With the program generally looking like it was on the rise, some thought that 2011 could be the season where the Blue Demons made it back to the Big Dance. There was trouble right out of the gate though, as DePaul were shutout in their first three matches and lost their first five overall. Defeats to Michigan State and Wisconsin-Milwaukee were tolerable, but losses to Iowa and Illinois State were perhaps warnings that all was not right with DePaul. Wins over Loyola (Ill.) and then Minnesota restored a little faith, but DePaul entered Big East play still very much on shaky ground.
While the club managed to draw with Louisville on opening weekend of conference action, defeats to Cincinnati and South Florida early on would prove damning later on. After recording their first win in the league against Providence, DePaul would fold completely down the stretch, losing their last six matches, including a final humiliation to Notre Dame in the regular season finale, being beaten 5-1 in South Bend. Far from contemplating the program’s steady rise at the end of 2011, the Blue Demons were instead left to wonder how the season had gone off the rails so badly.
Getting the program back on the rails in 2012 might be vital to Chastain’s job security, because no matter the good work she did in the two years prior, seasons like 2011 generally aren’t survivable when taken in back-to-back doses. The Blue Demons came into 2011 with some serious worries about their offense after taking some big hits due to graduation, and those worries appeared to be founded, as the club finished with the league’s worst offense, scoring just eight goals in eleven league matches, while also scoring just fifteen times on the entire season.
The Blue Demons’ defense wasn’t much better, with the club giving up just shy of two goals a game in the league. Once again, DePaul loses their leading scorer from the previous season, with Morgan Celaya and her four goals graduating. Whether DePaul’s going to get much help from their recruiting class is debatable as well, as unlike 2011’s stellar class, this year’s rookies come into Chicago relatively unheralded.
Chastain has hardly been shy about juggling goalkeepers in the past, and little suggests she’ll be bound to change that this year for DePaul. The incumbent starter should be sophomore Megan Pyrz, well regarded coming into the program last year. Pyrz would function as the club’s backup early on but took over starting duties a few games into league play and held it until the end of the season. It was trial by fire for the most part, with Pyrz being forced into ten or more saves by the inadequate defense on three occasions. Pyrz had taken over for senior Claire Hanold, who had won the starting job as a freshman but has promptly seen her minutes drop every season since.
Given recent history, you’d expect both to see major minutes at some point this season. Keeping the above in mind, Hanold and Pryz might be wise to keep looking over their shoulder, as the club also adds true freshman Alejandria Godinez, a trainee at Mexican youth international level in the past.
If DePaul is to improve markedly on defense, it’ll likely be with most of the same cast of characters that was so ineffective in large part last season for the club. The only major loss for the club is of Casey Mercurio, a former forward who started sixteen matches in 2010 but who ended up only starting the final five games of the year last season and playing in just nine games overall.
The returning core of this group is still actually pretty young. Junior Rebekah Roller looks the likeliest leader at this point, having started all forty matches of her DePaul career up to this point. Roller’s a little handy going forward as well, scoring the game winner against Loyola (Ill.) early on and also chipping in with three assists on the year. Classmate Chelsea Grant has been a player of fine potential for much of her career after winning Big East All-Rookie Team honors in 2009 but missed almost all of 2010 through injury and then missed a big chunk of the end of the season after being hurt again. If Grant stays healthy, she’s a big boost for this backline.
Sophomore Sarah Gorden will be remembered last year for scoring the golden goal against Minnesota, but the Elk Grove native also started seventeen matches as a rookie and should again be heavily involved in the club’s defensive effort. Also in the mix for starting time should be junior Ren Stoecklin, who made six starts in Big East matches after missing two straight seasons, and fellow junior Kylie Nordness, who has started twenty-five games in two years with the club. Further depth comes from sophomore Nina Kodros, who saw seven games of action as a rookie. This group still has plenty of potential to grow into, especially the injury plagued Grant, but moderate improvement still seems more likely than a quantum leap forward.
Thin on numbers on the ground, DePaul also has to overcome the loss of Michelle Scandora as well, with the Winfield native finishing her career having started seventy-two games over the past four seasons for the club. A four-year starter who also filled in in the back when the club was in a pinch, Scandora was also good for a few goals as season, including last year’s two strikes. Adding to DePaul’s worries is the subsequent loss of another senior stalwart, Beth Perry. Perry was less of a threat in front of goal, with just one career tally, but she was no less versatile than Scandora, starting eighteen games on the backline in 2010 before moving back into midfield as a senior.
The dual losses leave DePaul with some serious worries going into 2012, especially considering depth looks non-existent. Sophomore Amber Paul is the leading returning scorer with three goals in her freshman season, including a brace against Illinois State, but scored just once in the league. She started in every match though and could be a big part of the club’s present and future. English junior Ashleigh Goddard looked like a budding star in 2010, making the All-Big East Rookie Team after two goals and three assists but failed to really develop last season, making just ten starts and only scoring a pair of goals for the club.
Beyond those two? It looks like slim pickings, though freshman Brianna Ryce, a Trinidad & Tobago youth international could make an instant impact, either as an attacking midfielder or leading the line up top. Still, this group looks seriously worrying for Chastain and co.
Celaya’s a tough loss to take for the club, not just because she was the club’s leading scorer, but also because she was just seemingly hitting her stride for the Blue Demons. In her first three seasons, Celaya had scored just a pair of goals, but she doubled that with four last season, including three in the league. A loss that might prove just as big is that of freshman Nikki Condit, who was thought to be a big part of the club’s future after coming in as a highly regarded recruit. She went pointless last season as a top reserve but was thought to be one to watch for the future. Also gone is Arianna Foster, not prolific in front of goal, but still one of the club’s top reserves in front of goal the past four years.
The leading returner in starts is senior Kelly Blumberg, who racked up seventeen starts last season and has been a three-year starter for the club. Her strike record is hardly inspiring though, having not hit the back of the net last year despite two assists. There were high hopes for English sophomore Rachel Pitman coming into 2011, with the Brit having been a former youth international and a member of the Arsenal Ladies side. Pitman would struggle as a rookie though, netting just once, in the season finale against Notre Dame.
Chastain has to be hoping she’s more settled and effective this year, because there’s precious little in depth. Junior Natasa Radosavljevic, who happens to be the daughter of former American international Preki, looked to be a chip off the old scoring block after three goals as a rookie, mostly in a super sub role, but played in just nine games last year, scoring just once. Other depth is basically non-existent other than potential newcomers, meaning if the returnees don’t make a big step forward, the Blue Demons could be toothless again in front of goal.
Above all else, DePaul looks like it has a serious problem with depth this year. The Blue Demons’ provisional roster for 2012 shows sixteen returnees, which is a problem when you consider the announced recruiting class as of press time shows just four newcomers. With DePaul having struggled through injuries in the past, this lack of depth is rather alarming. More than just pure numbers though, DePaul’s attack, or lack thereof, looks like a big liability going into the new year, especially with Celaya’s departure. The defense looks like it has a little potential if everyone stays healthy, but that may not be enough if the offense isn’t scoring. After last season’s dismal showing, the Blue Demons will want to bounce back into the postseason, but it looks like a tough ask in a very competitive league this year.