Aug. 1, 2013
CHICAGO – DePaul women’s soccer looks at the revamped BIG EAST Conference as an opportunity to set a new standard.
After advancing to the BIG EAST Championship quarterfinals twice in the last three years, the next step is qualifying for its first BIG EAST semifinals.
“We certainly have raised expectations for our group as we compete in a smaller conference with fewer teams,” said DePaul soccer coach Erin Chastain as her team reports for preseason training on Tuesday. The BIG EAST has gone from 15 teams to 10.
“It’s exciting that we’ll get to play everybody,” Chastain continued. “That’s the truest way of determining who should compete in the BIG EAST Championship.
"In the past, you would play every team in your division and various teams in the other division. We had to face Notre Dame every year---historically the strongest program in the BIG EAST.”
Heading into the 2013 season, Marquette and Georgetown appear to be the strongest.
“Clearly, there is a top two in the new BIG EAST in Marquette and Georgetown,” Chastain said. “Marquette beat Georgetown 1-0 in the 2012 BIG EAST Championship title game.
“From a national perspective, these two programs have advanced the farthest in the NCAA tournament. As for the rest of the teams, in any given year they can make a strong run. Of the new teams coming in (Butler, Xavier, Creighton), Butler had the highest NCAA RPI rating (59).”
DePaul had the fifth-best RPI among teams in the reconfigured BIG EAST at 131. Marquette was No. 12, Georgetown 26, Butler 59 and Villanova 105. The Blue Demons topped Villanova 3-0 last season in their BIG EAST tournament opener---the program’s first playoff road victory.
Six of the 10 teams will make the BIG EAST tournament. The top two teams will receive a bye with the No. 3 seed opening against No. 6 and No. 4 versus No. 5. Nobody will face the No. 1 or No. 2 team until the semifinals.
After an Aug. 14 exhibition match at Northwestern, the Blue Demons open their regular season on Aug. 23 at Valparaiso. They kick off the BIG EAST season Sept. 26 at Georgetown.
“Based on our performance last year, we feel confident competing against the teams in our conference,” Chastain said. “Against two of the top teams in the country, we had 1-0, overtime losses to Notre Dame and Georgetown and the 1-0 loss at Georgetown in the BIG EAST quarterfinals.
“We came through defensively. This past spring, our focus was on offense and the attacking third. Ashleigh Goddard should provide offense and both Brianna Ryce and Elise Wyatt are going to be improved attacking players with a year of experience. We also have a couple of talented recruits who could help us.”
Returning goalkeeper Megan Pyrz along with All-BIG EAST Third Team defender Kyle Nordness, Sarah Gorden and Rachel Pitman will anchor the defense while Rebekah Roller makes connections in the midfield.
Wyatt, who earned an invitation to Canada’s U-20 National Team Camp, led the Blue Demons last season with five goals and 11 points. Goddard finished with three goals, four assists and 10 points.
“Our goals this season go beyond qualifying for the BIG EAST Championship,” Chastain said. “We want to advance deeper than ever into the BIG EAST tournament. We’re led by a deep and talented senior class that has played a big role in the growth of our program.
“I think we have a pretty special group, and we had great team chemistry last year that will hopefully carry over. We have some great senior leaders (Goddard, Nordness, Roller, Natasa Radosavljevic, Erin Pekovitch) who will set the tone right away in our nonconference season.
“With a lot of experience back, we’re raising the bar no matter what. In talking to the seniors, they want to be part of the team that has the best season in program history.”