Blue Demons Warm Up For BIG EAST Playoff Opener
CHICAGO - Tara Strickland found that proverbial silver lining.
DePaul had just missed out on hosting a first-round playoff game in the BIG EAST tournament---a chance to play one more time in the friendly confines of Wish Field.
The Blue Demons needed a tie against Villanova in Sunday's regular-season finale at Wish Field, but came away with a 1-0 loss.
That meant the aptly nicknamed "Turnaround Team" will travel to Tampa and face USF Thursday in the first round.
"Well, at least we get to go someplace warm," Strickland said with a smile. "I don't think playing at USF will be a factor.
"It's a little tougher that we don't have home-field advantage, but I have a feeling we'll still do great."
USF (8-7-3, 5-4-2) also comes into the postseason having lost its regular-season finale, 3-2 at Syracuse. The Bulls and DePaul have each scored 25 goals. USF has given up 17 goals to 22 for the Blue Demons. DePaul has posted nine shutouts to USF's seven.
The Bulls are outscoring their opponents 25-17 and have outpointed them 74-46. USF opponents have booted 82 corner kicks to 53 for the Bulls.
The USF offense is led by Chelsea Klotz, who is among the BIG EAST leaders in goals (eight) and points (17) and Noelle Pineiro (six goals, five assists, 17 points). Taylor Patterson also has five assists to rank with Pineiro among the league leaders. Goalkeeper Mallori Lofton-Malachi has given up 17 goals in 18 games for a goals-against average of 0.93 and has recorded five shutouts.
"We lost to USF 1-0 at Wish Field last year, but it was a battle," Strickland said. "I know they have a team that fights hard all the time."
This will be the first postseason appearance for the Blue Demons since 2004 when they qualified for the Conference USA tournament and lost 3-1 to St. Louis in the first round.
DePaul won the Conference USA tournament in 2003 and advanced to its only NCAA tournament, falling to Purdue 2-1 in the opener.
At Sunday's Senior Day/Alumni Day dinner, DePaul Athletics Director Jean Lenti Ponsetto said that after serving on NCAA tournament selection committees--- that these Blue Demons are an NCAA caliber team.
"I totally agree with her," Strickland said. "I believe this team has all the potential to be an NCAA qualifier. Hopefully, we'll get the opportunity to show them we are an NCAA team."
After going 17-49-7 the last four years, including 4-15 in 2008, this has certainly been a turnaround season.
"Everyone is so excited about our first BIG EAST tournament, especially since we were not up to par last year," said Strickland, who leads DePaul in goals with seven, assists with six and points with 20. "This is the team that did it---that is turning the program around.
"The difference has been our attitude and conditioning, good leadership and great freshmen. And, we wanted to get rid of the bad taste from last season."
How will the Blue Demons battle the jitters of their first BIG EAST playoff match?
"A lot of our players have been faced this kind of pressure before," said Strickland, who won a national championship with her club team Eclipse Select in 2006. "Janina and Dominique Locascio, Chelsea Grant, Claire Hanold and some others have been in this situation before.
"We know we have to leave it all on the field. This could be our last game, and for the seniors---the final game of their careers.
"We don't want our season to end."