Women's Basketball Charges Into Revamped BIG EAST in 2013-14
Sept. 20, 2013
CHICAGO – Doug Bruno has seen his share of conference shifts since taking over the DePaul women’s basketball program 28 years ago.
Through stints in the North Star, Great Midwest, Conference USA and both manifestations of the BIG EAST Conference, excellence on the court and in the classroom has been a constant for the Blue Demons.
“What we’ve been able to do is figure out how to make our program a national program regardless of our conference affiliation,” said Bruno. “That’s the starting point from which we work – how to make ourselves relevant at a national level, athletically and academically, regardless of who is in our league. I think we’ve demonstrated we are able to do that.”
DePaul, which has been to 18 total NCAA Tournaments, is one of only nine Division I teams to punch a ticket to the tourney for 11 straight seasons. And, just this summer, the Blue Demons also made program history by tying for the second-highest team GPA in the nation.
With such a rich tradition of success, it goes without saying that the goals remain familiar for Bruno and his troops heading into the revamped BIG EAST in 2013-14.
The league itself, which adds three very strong women’s basketball programs in Creighton, Butler and Xavier, figures to remain one of the preeminent leagues in college hoops.
“What the BIG EAST brings is top-to-bottom strength,” said Bruno. “It’s going to be one of the strongest leagues in the country, and it’s got four teams that went to the NCAA Tournament right off the top. We lose two perennial juggernauts in UConn and Notre Dame, but no other conference has that kind of strength either. We certainly didn’t lose being good.”
Creighton, Villanova, St. John’s and the Blue Demons all represented the current BIG EAST configuration in the NCAA Tournament a year ago and are bolstered by a deep league that looks to be balanced and extremely competitive.
“I think the freshness of the alignment has 10 teams thinking they could win the whole thing,” said Bruno. “Everybody is feeling really good about the level of excitement surrounding the league.”
For the Blue Demons, a league title could be in the making with three seniors back from last year’s 21-win squad. That group features a talented forward in Jasmine Penny and a pair of Kelsey’s (Reynolds and Smith). Penny scored 12.8 points per game in nearly 30 minutes of court time in 2012-13, and did it while shooting .538 from the field.
“I’m excited about the senior class,” said Bruno. “I think Jasmine [Penny] has been an underrated player in college basketball. She’s a lot better than the world realizes, and she’s been a steady player since she was rushed onto the scene two years ago when Keisha Hampton went down with an injury. Her numbers will tell you that.
The backcourt, a pivotal part of the team’s success last season, and another key strength in 2013-14, will be led by a pair of juniors in All-BIG EAST guard Brittany Hrynko and sharpshooter Megan Rogowski. Those two combined for 119 three-pointers last season, as Hrynko led the team in assists, steals while scoring 14.7 points per game.
“Hrynko has shown signs of being brilliant,” said Bruno. “I think she’s a preseason BIG EAST Player of the Year candidate and a really special talent. Megan Rogowski has shown signs of having big-game potential and I think there’s a player there that’s ready to break out. She’s had breakout games, but I expect a breakout season this year.”
Another member of the talented guard group is former Whitney Young standout Chanise Jenkins, who returns to the Blue Demons after earning a spot on the All-BIG EAST Freshman Team last season. Sophomore Megan Podkowa, who appeared in 26 games as a true freshman, will be back to provide additional defense and perimeter shooting.
Junior transfer Centrese McGee, who comes to Lincoln Park from Illinois, also figures to provide reinforcement in the backcourt after sitting out last season due to NCAA transfer rules.
Replacing All-American guard Anna Martin and All-BIG EAST forward Katherine Harry will be a tall order, but a highly-regarded freshman class will join the mix to add depth while the Blue Demons will look to get a productive year from two redshirt freshmen – forward Brandi Harvey-Carr and guard Brooke Schulte.
“The team is a strong team, top-to-bottom,” said Bruno, who says he still hasn’t seen enough of this year’s group to realistically determine a ceiling for them. “It’s got strengths and questions.”
In eight years as a BIG EAST member, the Blue Demons have been a major player every year. As conference members, the program has produced seven 20-win seasons and finished at .500 just twice – posting winning percentages well above that in six-of-eight years, including a 13-3 mark during the 2010-11 season.
Despite the continued high-level of competition, Bruno believes his team is in good shape to continue that trend and consistently compete for league championships.
And he certainly doesn’t notice any let-up in the gauntlet he’s lined up for his team this season.
“The schedule is a bear,” said Bruno. “Just like last year.”