As of Saturday, it had been 364 days since the DePaul women’s soccer team suffered a loss. In that time they went from tournament hopefuls to Big East champions, picking up dozens of accolades and developing a chemistry the program had never seen.
The feeling of defeat was such a distant memory to most of the team that Alexa Ben and the other freshmen had yet to experience the feeling of losing at the collegiate level.
“I hate losing,” Ben said in October. “It’s one of the worst feelings ever, and not losing is a big accomplishment. It feels great. I definitely think (the team) hates losing as much as I do.”
And yet on a snowy Saturday night in Madison, Wisconsin, the misery associated with a loss hit harder than ever. The Blue Demons fell 2-0 to the Badgers in the first round of the NCAA tournament, and all the Blue Demons could do afterward was hug one other in consolation.
The team’s last loss nearly one year ago came at the same point in the season, a NCAA tournament first-round defeat to Indiana. But this time it felt different — this season was one of only four winning seasons in the program’s 18-year history and the only with fewer than six losses.
The loss stung. This was a team that did things no other team in DePaul women’s soccer program history had done before. For a team that did so much in the regular season to fall just short of achieving another program first by making it past the first round of the NCAA tournament is heartbreaking.
It wasn’t as if they choked in the first round either. They ran into a team that had only allowed seven goals on the year and won the Big Ten. But the heartbreak still remains.
However, getting the opportunity to be heartbroken like this was far removed from the Blue Demons’ experience just a few years ago. Rachel Pitman, the senior defender whose collegiate career came to a close with the loss, reflected on the progress the program had made since she started.
“I’m so happy to see from my freshman year where this program has gone and where it’s still going,” she said. “We put DePaul on the map and for me that’s the most important thing.”
The Blue Demons went 3-14-1 her freshman year. They only won one conference matchup and ended the season on a six-game losing streak. The next year they improved, going 9-10-2 and winning their first round Big East tournament game. 2013 saw them make the NCAA tournament for the first time in nearly a decade.
And, of course, this year made for one of the most special seasons in the university’s history, not just women’s soccer. Pitman was right — they did put DePaul on the map. This year was the coming out party for the Blue Demons as they showed they could be a Big East powerhouse, finally taking out some of the old guard in Marquette and Georgetown.
This season wasn’t a flash in the pan either. This was the result of multiple years of building the program, recruiting special players out of high school such as Big East Rookie of the Year Alexa Ben, or getting productive transfers such as sophomore Abby Reed, who tied the program record for goals scored in a single season with 12.
There’s a reason head coach Erin Chastain was given an extension through the 2019-20 season at the end of last year. Chastain has shown her ability to recruit and develop, and she is a large reason why DePaul women’s soccer is at the level it is now.
Even looking ahead to next year the future is bright. The Blue Demons return Elise Wyatt and Reed, who combined for 23 goals this year. Ben, who was a dynamic player in the midfield, has three more years of eligibility. Jessica Weaver and Lucy Edwards, who also earned starting roles as freshmen, will complete the midfield.
The defense will take a hit, losing three out of four players on the back line, but this team has had freshmen come in and contribute well before.
“Going into next year, this season is just where we’re beginning,” Ben said. “I can only see this program going up.”
This team will be remembered as one of the most exciting Blue Demon teams, carrying their undefeated record all the way through to the postseason. That’s special.
But the program is still making progress. This season was the best so far, but the best is yet to come.