DePaul women prevail despite season-long adversity

DePaul No. 1 seed in Big East tournament
DePaul are No. 1 seed in Big East tournament despite losing three starters early in the season.

By Allie Burger

For DePaul women’s basketball, Wednesday morning was more than celebration. It was affirmation that this year’s team has overcome adversity.

The program won five of the seven major regular season Big East awards—a tribute to the well-rounded success of the roster. But the group that played the minutes, that built the team’s current record, looks very different from the roster that Doug Bruno had planned to take the court back in early fall.

DePaul lost three of their starters to injury by the early part of conference play. They lost their top scorer, steals leader and playmaker. But still, they managed to go 16-2 in the Big East. They ended their season as the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament. Plus, they’re poised for an NCAA berth, currently ranked 18 in the Associated Press Top 25.

“Losing all those people was definitely hard,” Jacqui Grant said. “But, the coaching staff has done a great job of keeping us together and making sure that we can still do this. We are a no excuses team. That is what our model has been this year. We’ve had some big blows, but we’re doing pretty well.”

Among the major losses was pre-season player of the year Jessica January. January, a guard, had surgery on a broken index finger earlier this season and was out for nearly two months.

“A major aspect of production was taken from us,” coach Doug Bruno said. “The fact that this group has been able to continue to succeed without them is really kind of what this season’s story is evolving into at this point.”

Schulte has been one of the players to step up for the team this season—a situation that Bruno said may have pushed her to be the player he knew she could be.

“I’m thrilled that she’s showing the world how good she really is,” Bruno said. “Why hasn’t that come sooner? Probably, I’m learning through time here that Brooke’s … got a scorer’s ability with a service mentality. It’s kind of interesting to watch her feel like she has to do this, so she’s doing it.”

She’s doing it. And she’s leading with players like Grant, Meri Bennett-Swanson and January from the bench while rehabbing.

January won Big East player of the week in her first weekend back, beginning on Feb. 24 with wins against Villanova and Georgetown. Her relationship with the game when she stepped back onto the court was not the same as when she last left it in late December.

“It’s been a really difficult and frustrating time,” January said. “I think having my teammates and my coaches in my ear all the time, and just being surrounded by so many good people, I’ve been able to keep a steady mind and still have such a passion for the game.”

January rejoins a team who’s stepped up in her absence to keep their early goals of winning the Big East tournament and making the NCAA tournament alive.

“I think we’ve done a good job of coming together and everybody saying, ‘We’re going to be in this together. We’re still going to win games.’ We’re not going to back down now and say, ‘Oh, poor us that we’ve had injuries.’ We’re still a great team.”

Bruno believes that this squad can continue to win games throughout the post-season. In his 31 years of coaching the DePaul women’s team, he has made it to 21 NCAA tournaments and four Sweet 16s. This year’s group has the potential to go as far, if not farther, if they continue to improve as they have been throughout the season.

“There is a lot of great room for improvement with our basketball team,” Bruno said. “We teach our players to learn from victory, but to not settle or be seduced to false beliefs of self … that’s the dynamic that has to be.”

January is preparing to play in her fourth NCAA tournament this March. She also believes that this group can make it farther than the last three years.

“We have faced so much adversity this year it doesn’t even make any sense,” January said. “The resilience we’ve shown, I think, is something that’s going to carry over to the tournament.”

Photo at top: DePaul enters Big East tournament No. 1 seed despite season-long adversity. (Allie Burger/MEDILL)