Moving away from home. Learning how to do laundry. Getting yourself to class. Ensuring you eat right. Making the adjustment from high school to college is tough on everyone, but especially so for varsity athletes. In addition to learning how to live on your own, there’s the added pressures of fitting in on a new team, learning the rules and managing grueling schedules. Suddenly, the competition is fiercer and the demands increase.
For freshman softball standout and Big East Rookie of the Year Dylan Christensen, the change not only involved the challenges of growing up, but doing so over 2,000 miles away from home. The Chula Vista, California native intended to keep her talents closer to home.
“I originally wanted to stay in the West Coast,” she said. “I had never heard of DePaul before. I didn’t even know where it was.”
That all changed when head coach Eugene Lenti started recruiting Christensen during her sophomore year. Lenti first saw her play in the summer on a travel ball team. Lenti knew her coach because he had recruited other players from that team before —but failed. Christensen is the first successful recruit from that team.
“When I saw her play in travel ball, I just saw her poise and power,” Lenti said. “But once she came on her visit we were even more impressed by what type of person she was.”
Coming from a suburban area, Christensen was drawn in by the lure of Chicago.
“I thought it would be cool to have a new experience. To live the city life,” she said.
Her new experience has been a demanding one. The jump from high school to college included a heightened level of competition and a higher demand for hard work and dedication. With the help of her teammates, Christensen has been able to not only make that adjustment but flourish. Not only was Christensen awarded Rookie of the Year, but she made the Big East all-tournament team as well.
“I have a lot of role models (on the team) that I look up to,” she said. “The coaches really helped me improve. I didn’t expect as much success.”
Christensen credits the leadership of the team for the successful year. Seniors Allie Braden, Kirsten Verdun, Megan Coronado and junior Mary Connolly have helped not only Christensen improve, but the four other freshmen as well.
“They’ve welcomed all the freshmen into the team,” she said. “I look up to them as hitters and leaders. They’ve helped us be successful.”
Verdun, the Big East Player of the Year, is quick to note that Christensen has made a huge impact on the team this year at the plate.
“As a fourth hitter as a freshman, it’s a lot of pressure,” Verdun said. “She has a maturity as a freshman in the four spot. She hits when she needs to.”
Taking care of business has been the story of the 2014 season. The Demons have won over forty games, remained undefeated at home, won theww Big East regular season, won the first Big East conference tournament since 2008, swept the Big East awards, went on a 20-game win streak and returned to the NCAA tournament after missing it last year for the first time since 2006.
At the start of the year, the team came up with three main goals: win the Big East regular season, win the conference tournament and win the NCAA tournament. Christensen is proud that of those three goals, they’ve already accomplished two of them. But one of the things she’s most proud of comes out of adversity.
“When we lost to Butler we bounced back really well,” she said. “We didn’t let that loss affect us.”
The Demons lost to Butler 4-2 on May 3, just one week before they would come roaring back to win the Bwig East tournament championship game against St. John’s, a game where Christensen’s impact was showcased. She helped DePaul score in the third inning off a ground hit from Morgan Maize and helped bring her teammate home off a bases-loaded walk in the fourth inning.
“She’s made a huge impact for us,” Lenti said. “For a freshman, batting fourth for us when we have such great hitters says a lot about her maturity and her as a player. She’s been integral to what we’ve been able to achieve this year.”
Out of all the success and accolades from the season, the most memorable moment for Christensen came from just another game. More specifically, the April 4 showdown betweenw DePaul and former Big East rival Notre Dame. What made the game so special wasn’t just the 4-2 victory, but the way the team pulled through.
“Probably the most memorable (moment) was our win over Notre Dame,” she said. “When Hannah (Penna) hit the winning home run. It was a great come from behind win.”
The team hopes to build on their success in years to come. Christensen would like to continue seeing her team Big East champions and making it to the World Series. The last time DePaul made it was in 2007.
“It’d be awesome to make it back there,” Christensen said. “Considering we’re the underdogs, us going out and playing DePaul softball is all it takes.”
As Christensen looks to the future for her team, Verdun offers her advice to her fellow teammate.
“Keep being her. Keep doing what she’s doing. The talent is definitely there,” Verdun said. “I think she could be the best hitter in the country. She has that ability.”