Softball Expects to Get Back to Championship Ways in Revamped BIG EAST
Aug 29, 2013
CHICAGO – After missing the NCAA Tournament for just the second time in 17 seasons, longtime DePaul head coach Eugene Lenti expects his team to return to excellence in 2014 as the Blue Demons transition into the reconfigured BIG EAST Conference.
“I think it’s time to get back to championship softball for DePaul,” said Lenti, who embarks on his 33rd year in Lincoln Park this spring. “That’s what we’re aiming to return to – dominating the BIG EAST, winning the regular season championship, winning the postseason tournament, winning a regional, a super regional and getting back to the World Series. They’re lofty goals, but they’re big and they’re significant and they’re reachable for this group.”
Returning senior ace Kirsten Verdun, a three-time First Team All-BIG EAST selection, will be a big part of any potential postseason run for the Blue Demons. Owner of a 1.90 earned run average in 2013, Verdun also posted 23 wins to go with 29 complete games. And it’ll be the southpaw that dictates much of the team’s fate.
“This game is won from 43-feet away, so if our pitching returns to the dominance that it had in previous years we’re going to be fine,” said Lenti. “I know the defense will return to its form of two years ago, and the hitting needs to be a little bit more opportunistic – especially in the postseason.”
Lenti believes getting a little bit more out of the pitching and defense should be enough for his bunch to compete for the championship right away in the revamped BIG EAST with new members Creighton, Xavier and Butler.
“Adding Creighton and Butler will be significant for us,” said Lenti. “Creighton won the Missouri Valley last year, so you’re adding a champion from another conference into your mix. Obviously, we lost some pretty strong teams. But it’s still a pretty strong group and it’s going to be very competitive.
“Out of all the teams returning we had the highest RPI, so I don’t think it’s a stretch for me to say we’re the team to beat.”
Starting shortstop Allie Braden and pitcher/slugger Hannah Penna also return to make up the senior class for DePaul, which will get to play host in its final BIG EAST Conference Tournament at The Ballpark at Rosemont.
At the tourney, the field will consist of four-teams playing single elimination games for the conference championship. The defending Missouri Valley Conference Champions, Creighton figures to pose the most resistance as the Blue Demons aim for their first title since 2007.
“I think all the teams are going to be competitive, but Creighton right now seems to have a little bit of an edge,” said Lenti. “That’s a rivalry in the making because of the proximity. And that’s the same with Butler. We’re recruiting some of the same kids, so I’m sure we’re going to come across that. Butler recruits a lot out of the Chicagoland area, Creighton recruits some out of the area and when somebody comes in to recruit in your area that leads to a little bit of a rivalry too.”
Adding regional opponents is sure to make for easier travel and more traditional rivals, but Lenti said it won’t change how he goes after prospective student-athletes on the recruiting trail.
“When we recruit to DePaul, we recruit kids on a great, private education in a great, internationally significant city,” said Lenti. “We really try to sell what DePaul has to offer and what the City of Chicago has to offer as opposed to what the BIG EAST has to offer. And that was even true before, so really it’s always been about DePaul and Chicago as opposed to the conference.”
That pitch has been working for Lenti and the Blue Demons for a long time now, and there’s no reason to doubt it will stop because of conference realignment.
Winning, of course, is among the biggest selling points for the program and – with a bit more good fortune on the bump and in the field – all signs point to a return to glory for DePaul softball in 2014.