Not enough can be said about the level of success the women’s basketball program has seen under the guidance of head coach Doug Bruno. Last year marked 22 consecutive NCAA tournament appearance by the Blue Demons and they added a Big East regular season title, ending the year ranked number 17 after being unranked in the preseason. This year after losing Big East player of the year Brooke Schulte, Big East co-defensive player of the year Jacqui Grant and WNBA draftee Jessica January, the Demons are ranked 25 overall in the preseason polls. Bruno sees the ranking as a sign of the respect the program has earned after the season of success, but knows each year it must be reinforced.
“Our goal is to be ranked throughout the season as we tackle one of the most difficult non-conference schedules in the country and live up to our ranking on a game-by-game basis,” said Bruno in an interview with DePaul Athletics. “That is the kind of challenge we embrace at DePaul.”
It initially seems that DePaul would have two returning starters after losing the three seniors, Bruno says it doesn’t feel like it. Ashton Millender started the first nine games of last season before being lost for the remaining 26 with a stress injury. Mart’e Greys was expected to have a big role before injuring her Achilles tendon before the season. They will join Amarah Coleman, Kelly Campbell and Tonita Allen in the projected starting lineup.
“There’s some really solid component parts here,” Bruno said. “Tanita Allen and Amarah Coleman both were All-Big East players for a reason. Having Mart’e Greys and Ashton Millender back, those are two talented people that would have started for us a year ago, but we didn’t have a year ago. So that means we really kind of have four people back even though on paper it looks like we only have two people back.”
Coleman started in 34 of 35 games last year and Campbell started 19. Tonita Allen lead the bench unit with 9.2 points per game and added 18 blocks on her way to Big East sixth woman of the year.
Rebekah Dahlman, a graduate transfer from Vanderbilt, could be featured in that role this season. She said she is very excited to be part of the DePaul program and now in her fifth year, she is ready to do whatever the team asks of her. Right now, the team is asking her to play at their fast pace. She said she’s always wanted to play fast, but it may take some getting used to.
“It’s definitely been hitting me the last couple of weeks,” Dahlman said. “I know Purdue, we were just running and running and running. And obviously Saint Xavier, I know I only played 20 minutes, but I was dead tired.”
That did not stop her from putting in a game high 22 points off the bench against the Saint Xavier Cougars.
The team may miss Grant’s 6-foot-3-inch size that helped her grab 8.5 rebounds per game and block 57 shots on her way to a Big East co-defensive player of the year title. It will be hard to make up for the rim protection Grant brought, but Bruno says these are the adjustments you must make as a coach.
“When you coach college basketball you have to just mentally ready yourself for every year is a retool, and you’re never going to exactly replicate what you lost,” said Bruno. “So, we’re going to have to make ourselves a strong defensive team in different ways.”
Outside of putting up numbers on the court, losing them might affect the leadership. Allen says it’s not one player, but everyone, that makes up the leadership of the team.
“I don’t think we have one leader on the team,” Allen said. “I think all of us are leaders from the seniors down to the freshman. I believe that we all know we play an important role on this basketball team and if we all want to achieve the same goal then leadership is a common goal we need to have.”
Dahlman would add that everyone brings their own part to the leadership of the team. She said what she brings is her experience. She saw two different coaches at Vanderbilt and now with Bruno she has seen the game through different lenses. She said that one of her main goals going into her final season is to pass on what she has learned.
“I’ve been playing college basketball for five years and just to give back (…) and teach the freshman all the mistakes I’ve made,” Dahlman said. “I’ve had three different head coaches now (…)They’re all very different in their styles, but I’ve learned so much from them and I can’t thank them enough for where I am today.”