It’s a new era in the Big East and the DePaul women’s basketball team is starting at the top.
The Big East Preseason Coaches’ Poll was unveiled Oct. 16 as part of the conference’s media week in New York. DePaul placed first with 79 points, including eight of 10 first-place votes.
In addition, Blue Demons junior guard Brittany Hrynko was tabbed as the Big East Preseason Player of the Year.
The rankings are compiled each year in a vote by the Big East coaches and this year’s poll had something of a twist to it. Gone are perennial powers like Connecticut, Notre Dame, and Louisville. Taking their places are Butler, Creighton, and Xavier. The coaches believe that DePaul is the best of the bunch, but the poll didn’t represent a landslide. Creighton came in a close second with 67 points and the Bluejays are coming off of a 25-8 season and a trip to the NCAA tournament.
“There’s no question that we’ve set out to win the conference championship, but nine other teams are out to win it too,” Blue Demons head coach Doug Bruno said. “We were picked No. 1 but we weren’t picked No. 1 by a lot.”
Bruno coached the team to a 21-12 record in the 2012- 2013 season, including a 9-7 mark in the Big East and an 11th consecutive appearance in the NCAA tournament. Entering his 28th season at the helm of the squad, he doesn’t take much stock in the poll.
“Our team is about achievement, not celebrity. The fact that we were voted No. 1 represents an achievement by our players that were here last year a year ago,” he said. “And yet, it’s a preview. Our primary concern is how we review. In simplest terms, we talk about how it’s all about the reviews and it’s not about the previews. Previews are nice but reviews last forever.”
Hrynko will be looking to improve upon her sophomore campaign during which she averaged 14.7 points per game and won co-Most Improved Player in the Big East. Her year was loaded with highlights, including a 35-point outburst against Marquette Feb. 2 and gamewinning baskets against Pittsburgh and Rutgers.
Despite the accolades, Hrynko echoed her coach’s sentiment.
“It’s a big honor, but it’s not about the previews. Although I got the preseason player of the year I’ve still got to work hard to actually receive the award at the end of the year,” she said.
Hrynko will be taking the reigns of a team that lost program standouts Anna Martin and Katherine Harry to graduation. She showed the ability to both score and pass in 2012 and Bruno hopes that his star guard improves her game further.
“Brit certainly has the talent to be the best player in the league and yet she still has to show improvement over what she did a year ago. She was really good but she can be better,” Bruno said. While she had a very good year last season, Hrynko was often erratic. She managed to distribute the ball consistently for the duration of the campaign, but her scoring was up and down.
While she scored 35 points in the Marquette game, she was dismal in games against Connecticut and Louisville. In those games, she scored a total of 11 points on 2-for-29 shooting.
“Brit’s a great facilitator and a great scorer. Hopefully she’ll show her experience so that she can be better and earn the award at review time,” Bruno said.
The absence of the aforementioned Cardinals and Huskies, along with Notre Dame, is undoubtedly a factor in the coaches voting DePaul as the conference favorites. But Hrynko and Bruno aren’t taking the new competition lightly.
“Any of the top five teams can win this. That’s what’s going to make our league so special this year, it’s a really competitive league from top to bottom,” Bruno said.
“The Big East is filled with teams that are good, one through 10,” Hrynko said. “It’s never going to be an easy path for us. We just have to take it one game at a time and play hard every game. I think we can go far.”
Still, it’s not hard to see why the Blue Demons are favored to win the conference. Martin and Harry are gone, but Bruno’s team returns three starters from last year’s tournament team. That includes senior forward Jasmine Penny, who averaged 12.8 points per game last year and cracked the 20-point mark five times.
With the season just around the corner, the anticipation is already buidling for Hrynko and her teammates.
“I’m just excited about all the games, just to be able to play each Big East team and the three new teams that are coming into the conference. I just look forward to the great experience and just giving the fans something to watch,” Hrynko said.
DePaul begins play with an exhibition game against St. Xavier Oct. 29 before starting the regular season with a matchup against Harvard Nov. 8 at McGrath-Phillips arena for the Maggie Dixon Classic.