Strickland Taking Charge of Turnaround Season
CHICAGO - Libertyville has been very, very good for DePaul soccer.
Steffen Vroom, the leading scorer on the men's team, is from that high school. It just so happens that Tara Strickland, leading scorer on the women's team, is also from the same school.
"Steffen and I knew each other in high school," said Strickland, the talented midfielder who is preparing for back-to-back home matches Friday against Providence and Sunday against Connecticut. "We met on a recruiting trip, and I remember thinking that if I came to DePaul, it would be nice to have someone here from my high school.
"We've become friends at DePaul. He is a really nice guy."
Strickland has emerged as the top Blue Demon player in her junior year, leading the team in goals (five), assists (five), points (15), shots (35), shots on goal (35) and game-winning goals (two). She had two goals and three assists as a sophomore and two goals and two assists as a freshman.
"Tara is ascending to a leadership role and is exceptional at serving set pieces---whether it's corner kicks, direct kicks or penalty kicks," said DePaul coach Erin Chastain. "She has taken charge out there and puts us in great position to score.
"She has been good for us in the past, but this year because the team is at a different point, some of her strengths are coming out even more."
Strickland took up soccer solely to hang out with her friends.
"I began playing when I was three years old and didn't like it because I wasn't very good," Strickland said. "I kept playing because that's what my friends did. That's what you do in Libertyville because it's such a soccer town.
"I remember scoring a goal when I was five, and that's when I started to like soccer."
She progressed rapidly through various travel leagues, played for Libertyville as a freshman and sophomore before playing exclusively on the nationally renowned Eclipse Select club team that won the national title in 2006.
Strickland will lead the Blue Demons against Providence (7-5-3, 2-3-2 in the BIG EAST) and UConn (9-5-0, 4-3-0) as they try to maintain their hold on the fifth and final postseason tournament spot.
Providence features high-scoring Jill Camburn, whose seven goals, three assists and 17 points put her among the conference leaders. The Friars come into Wish Field having outscored their opponents 16-14, outpointed them 41-39 and outshot them 214-163---including a 108-72 margin in the second half.
Providence is in seventh place in the American Division with eight points while Connecticut is in third with 12 points. The Friars come to Lincoln Park with a 4-2-2 road record.
UConn is 8-0 at home, but only 1-4 on the road. The Huskies have outscored teams 27-15, outpointed them 82-43 and have 105 shots on goal to 86 for their opponents.
Melissa Busque (18 points) and Linda Ruutu (16 points) each have six goals. Busque has fired off a team-high 44 shots with 20 on goal. The Huskies have outscored their opposition 18-5 in the first half.
Improving on its 4-0-1 record at Wish Field would certainly solidify DePaul's chances to qualify for its first BIG EAST tournament. The Blue Demons are 8-6-2, 3-4-0 in conference, and need one more victory to match the total wins from 2007 and 2008.
"This is a young team, and all the hard work we've done the last two years---we're tired of not getting credit for it," Strickland said. "The defense being so solid makes it easier for everyone on the offensive side.
"Michelle Scandora and Callie Hemming are playing well in the midfield. Lauren Pagone (three goals, one assist) has put some balls away for us. Morgan Celaya has made so many contributions to the team.
"The men's team has been awesome the last two years, turning the program around and making it both times to the BIG EAST semifinals. That is motivation for us---that we can turn it around, too and make it to the BIG EAST tournament."
Sunday will be a special day for the women's teams as the match will highlight a nationwide campaign of colleges joining in the fight against breast cancer.
A pink Nike game jersey will be raffled off and pink Nike soccer T-shirts will be on sale. Proceeds will benefit Kicks Against Breast Cancer and the American Cancer Society.