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Blue Demons Ready for a Sequel to their Turnaround Season
Chelsea Grant will anchor the DePaul defense after making the BIG EAST All-Rookie Team last year.

Chelsea Grant will anchor the DePaul defense after making the BIG EAST All-Rookie Team last year.

Aug. 19, 2010

 

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CHICAGO - The women's soccer players at DePaul are determined to make sure last year's turnaround season is not a one-hit wonder.

With that in mind, the Blue Demons open the 2010 season Friday night at Iowa and follow up with a Sunday matinee showdown against rival Northwestern in Evanston.

Tara Strickland, Chelsea Grant and their teammates enjoyed a banner year in 2009, taking an unprecedented joyride to their first BIG EAST Conference Championship tournament.

Along the way, they defeated a nationally ranked team (No. 11 Missouri) for the first time in program history and were nationally ranked (No. 20) for the very first time.

Freshman goalie Claire Hanold set a school record with nine shutouts.

It was an exhilarating experience for a program that had gone 17-49-7 the four previous years.

"We went to the BIG EAST Championship last year---now we want to go to the NCAA tournament," said Strickland, who led `Team Turnaround' in goals (seven), assists (six) and points (20) en route to being named All-BIG EAST Second Team. "I think everyone agrees we're ready to take some bigger steps.

"I expect to be in the BIG EAST tournament again, advance past the first round and be in contention for an NCAA tournament berth.

"This team definitely has the potential to be in the NCAAs."

The Blue Demons have 10 returning starters from a 10-9-2 team along with sophomore defender Casey Mecurio, who started all 19 matches in 2008 and was redshirted last season after an injury.

"I'm proud of what happened last year," said defender Chelsea Grant, who was selected to the BIG EAST All-Rookie Team. "In the past, opposing teams did not take us seriously. It felt really good to help turn the program around.

"We have a lot of returning starters---but at the same time---we have higher expectations.

"Everyone on the team wants to prove that last season wasn't a fluke."

It begins against an Iowa team that was 9-11-0 last year and outscored its opponents 21-11 in the second half.

Kelli McLaughlin heads up the Hawkeye attack after scoring nine goals in 2009. Morgan Showalter had six goals and five assists---including three game-winning goals---while Alyssa Cosneck also scored six times.

"When I first came here three years ago, we had to have a culture change," said DePaul coach Erin Chastain. "We tried to recruit the right kinds of student-athletes who were the right fit for turning the program around.

"Everyone bought into the change. The freshmen and sophomore classes in 2008 made big contributions. Nine freshmen and sophomores started on a regular basis.

"I believed in our younger players and knew they could help us achieve the goals we had set."

Along with all the "firsts" in 2009 came DePaul's initial victory over Northwestern in six tries. Arianna Foster scored the winning goal on a Wish Field breakaway.

Playing Northwestern always makes for a difficult week for Chastain. She and NU coach Stephanie Foster are best friends, and Foster was the maid of honor at Chastain's wedding.

"We grew up playing soccer together in Minnesota when we were 10 years old," Chastain said. "Coming from a family of all boys, she is the closest I have to a sister.

"The DePaul-Northwestern week is hard because we're both so competitive. We want to see each other's team do real well, but it's a little uncomfortable when we play each other.

"It takes a couple of days to cool down. Then, we get excited when we can cheer for each other again."

Northwestern is coming off a 7-10-1 season and is led by midfielders Jennifer Baumann and Jill Dunn, defender Bri Westlund and goalkeeper Carolyn Edwards.

The Wildcats also boast some high-ceiling freshmen led by Natalie Lagunas and Julie Sierks. Lagunas played on Mexico's CONCACAF U20 women's championship team while Sierks was a two-time, NSCAA All-Midwest Region selection.

It should be quite a challenge for Chastain & Co. in their 1 p.m. matchup at Lakeside Field in Evanston.

"You can tell we are faster and tougher, and the sophomores of 2008 have become our leaders," Chastain said. "There's an increased confidence from our success last year, and they really do believe in themselves.

"They have all seen a glimpse of what this team could be."