After the tough loss to St. John’s in the Big East Tournament semifinals and the shot at hosting an NCAA Tournament game gone, the DePaul women’s basketball team had to play the waiting game for over a week to find out where they would be sent, what seed they would receive and who they will face in the first round.
The Blue Demons (25-8) heard their name called not long into the show and it told them they would be traveling as a 6-seed to Louisville, Ky. to face the 11-seed James Madison University Dukes (27-5) in the first round. The Dukes ran rampant through the Colonial Athletic Association this year, as they have the past few years, and are currently riding a 20-game winning streak capped off with a 60-46 win in the CAA Tournament final against Drexel.
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James Madison will prove to be a tricky opponent for DePaul because the team doesn’t really know much about them. Chanise Jenkins said she’s been busy with school and hasn’t seen them play much. Megan Podkowa hasn’t seen them play either, but knows they fully deserve to be in the tournament.
“I know they’re a great team, a great program and have a great coaching staff,” Podkowa said. “I’m sure they’ll bring their A-game.”
Being selected for the NCAA Tournament for the 14th straight season means it’s just something these players expect to happen when coming to DePaul now. For Jenkins, this being her fifth appearance since joining the team means everything.
“All the credit to my teammates and coaches and previous teammates who have played here before, it’s all a dedication to our hard work and being coachable,” Jenkins said. “Five years going to the NCAA (Tournament) is an amazing feeling and I may not have won a national championship, but at the same time, I’m still making history here at DePaul.”
Initial bracket projections had DePaul as a 5-seed heading out west to play in California, which would’ve meant most of the fan base couldn’t go. Now, with the Blue Demons just over four hours away, the potential for a decent crowd of blue is plausible.
“It’s a relief, but at the same time, wherever we were going, we were going to embrace it,” Jenkins said. “We’re at Louisville and it’s kind of close, so our fans and family can come watch us play.”
“It’ll be a great atmosphere for us,” Podkowa said.
While there are only two seniors on the team, almost everyone has played in the tournament before; something Podkowa thinks will give them a slight advantage in each game.
“Just having a couple veterans on the team, our starting five, most of them have been in the NCAA Tournament before, so I think we’ll be able to ease the nerves a little bit,” Podkowa said. “We know what we’re playing for and we know how hard it is to make the tournament and play in it, so I think we have a lot of experience.”
One thing the team has been able to do throughout the year is recover after losses in a big way. Not once has the team dropped consecutive games this season and after every loss – except for two – they beat their opponent by double digits. It’s this sort of resiliency coach Doug Bruno expects to see against the Dukes.
“I like the way this group has rebounded from our tough defeats throughout the year, I think we’ve showed we can come back from some tough defeats,” Bruno said. “I expect that’ll happen again.”
DePaul plays James Madison on Friday, March 18 at 11 a.m. Central Time and, should they win, will face the winner of No. 3 Louisville and No. 14 Central Arkansas that Sunday.