Alexa Sandler | The DePaulia
After DePaul won the Big East regular season and tournament title this past season, the Blue Demons have now won six conference regular-season and tournament titles since 2013 — when the conference went to 10 teams. But the Blue Demons’ success in women’s basketball dates back to the early 2000s, when their streak of 18 consecutive NCAA Tournaments began, one of only a handful of programs in the country who have accomplished that feat.
Considering DePaul’s success over the last 18 years as the premier program in the Big East, it leaves only one question to be answered: why are the Blue Demons not given the full respect they deserve by the national audience? Well, women’s basketball head coach Doug Bruno had an answer after DePaul won its third straight Big East Tournament title over Marquette on March 9.
“We’re proud of what we’ve achieved,” Bruno said. “I don’t know if the nation understands what we’ve achieved. We here in Chicago kind of do, but across the nation doesn’t really get what we’ve achieved here. But we’re here to fight, to compete with the best of them. We haven’t done that yet. You are what your record says you are, and we’re a really good college basketball team that does it the right way, does it with ranked academic teams every year, but we still have another level, and that’s the highest level to climb.”
Since 2013, DePaul not only won a combined 10 titles, they racked up an 184-47 overall record and a 106-20 conference record. Still, the highest the Blue Demons have climbed in the AP poll during that span was to No. 11, with that accomplishment coming this past season. But the ultimate barometer of how great one program can be is the NCAA Tournament.
Even though DePaul has qualified for 18 straight NCAA Tournaments, the Blue Demons have yet to advance beyond the Sweet 16. Against the most dominant team of this generation, UConn, DePaul is 0-17.
But this season there was a different feeling with the Blue Demons. Not only did DePaul win two titles and finish the season with a 28-5 record, but they were destined to host the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. The top four seeds in each region host the first two rounds of the tournament at their campuses, and in ESPN’s final bracket, they had DePaul as a four seed.
There is no NCAA Tournament this season, however. The NCAA canceled both the men’s and women’s tournaments due to the coronavirus outbreak, leaving everyone guessing what could have been instead what should have been. But like Bruno pointed out during a phone interview with The DePaulia, the current health situation is bigger than sports.
“This is our job as coaches to teach our players about the big picture,” Bruno said. “So, this is a situation much bigger than sports. While it’s a big loss to our team to not be able to compete in the NCAA Tournament, that loss to us as a team pales by comparison to people losing their lives to a worldwide pandemic. It’s very important our players understand that and we are dealing with the big picture here, not just the next game.”
While DePaul did not get to finish its season with a run in the NCAA Tournament, they are only one of nine programs who actually punched their ticket to the big dance by winning the Big East Tournament. With that in mind and winning two titles this season, Bruno also stressed the positives to his players.
“I really tried to stress upon the players that we were one of those only teams in America who actually made the NCAA Tournament by being able to complete our Big East championship tournament by [March 9],” Bruno said. There’s a handful of us who made this year’s tournament, and we are one of those teams. So, there’s a lot of teams out there who couldn’t even get to finish and earn their way into the NCAA Tournament.”
The cancellation of the NCAA Tournament not only brought an end to a successful season for DePaul, it ended the college careers of seniors Kelly Campbell and Chante Stonewall. The NCAA is going to vote on March 30 whether winter and spring seniors will receive an extra year of eligibility, but the likelihood of it being approved for winter sports is slim — which means the end of Stonewall’s and Campbell’s DePaul careers.
The two seniors have been a part of six combined regular season and conference tournament titles, including winning both titles in the same year twice. Even though their accomplishments in four years speak for themselves, they still had the goal of leading the Blue Demons to their first Elite Eight appearance.
“I was very upset that we were not able to play in the NCAA tournament this season,” Campbell said. “Obviously in the big picture, I see why it had to be cancelled but that does not make it any easier on us. As a team, we had very high aspirations this year and due to the cancellation were not able to finish out a handful of them. It was a tough and abrupt ending, but I am glad we got to end on a win with the Big East Tournament championship.”
In four years, Campbell was the floor general in DePaul’s high-octane offense. Twice she was nominated for the Nancy Liberman award, which goes out to the nation’s best point guard. The Wall, N.J. native also recorded two triple-doubles in her career, with the second coming against Providence on Feb. 2. Not only was she one of the best point guards in the Big East, but Campbell led the entire country in assist-to-turnover ratio this past season.
Stonewall, on the other hand, became known for her scoring and defense. The Normal, Ill. native racked up a total of 1,622 points, which is eight behind 10th all-time in DePaul history — and if the Blue Demons got to play in the NCAA Tournament this season, Stonewall would have most likely reached the ninth spot. But her biggest moment came in the final seconds of the 2019 Big East Tournament when she converted a 3-point play to give the Blue Demons a 74-73 win over Marquette.
This season, however, Stonewall was named to the All-Big East first team and was named the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year.
“Words cannot begin to form how proud I am to have gotten the chance to lead this group of talented women,” Stonewall said. They have undoubtedly surprised me with their ultra-competitiveness, obsession with improvement and their ‘love-to-win, hate-to-lose’ attitudes. If I were to give this group of women a name, I would call us the ‘N.T.B.F. (not to be forgotten): Unfinished Business 2019-2020 Game Changers.‘”
Even though there is no way of telling how far Stonewall and Campbell could have taken this DePaul team in the NCAA Tournament, their numbers and records are forever ingrained in Blue Demons history. But for Bruno, their impact on the program goes beyond their numbers.
“Chante Stonewall and Kelly Campbell are two of the best leaders we’ve ever had, two of the best seniors, two of the most productive seniors that we’ve ever had,” Bruno said. “So, it was a joy to coach them. They were both very special people and we are going to miss them greatly. And hopefully what Chante and Kelly did as leaders will be picked up and runned with by our present junior, sophomore and freshman class.”