Strength in numbers: women’s team gears up for fresh season

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As the women’s basketball team took to the court for their annual open practice at McGrath-Phillips Arena Oct. 13, it was an unusual sight to see a full roster of playÎ_ers engaged in various drills and catching their breath between rotations.

This is due in large part to the efforts of the 2011-2012 Blue Demons, who withÎ_stood a number of setbacks to march all the way to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, where they eventually lost to the Tennessee Lady Vols 63-48. With a bench rotation of just two players in addiÎ_tion to the requisite five starters, the womÎ_en’s team’s success was extraordinary.

Dubbed the “Magnificent Seven,” the core group of Anna Martin, Katherine Harry, Jasmine Penny, Brittany Hrynko, Deanna Ortiz, Megan Rogowski and Kelsey Reynolds were, for a majority of the season, the only Blue Demons who touched the floor.

The Blue Demons were hindered by injuries that sidelined a number of players, including seniors Maureen Mulchrone, Taylor Pikes and, most notaÎ_bly, All-American and eventual WNBA draftee Keisha Hampton. Freshmen Alexa Gallagher and Chanise Jenkins also sat out for most of the 2011-2012 campaign.

Regardless, the Magnificent Seven battled game after game, fighting to grind-out victories and falling in tough losses throughout their arduous Big East conferÎ_ence slate. The starters consistently played over 30 minutes a game, managing their fatigue to get them all the way to the team’s 17th straight NCAA Tournament appearance.

“Last year’s season was all about the players,” said head coach Doug Bruno when discussing being down to only seven players and having them carry the team forward. “The bad news was we lost five really good players last year, All-American players. The good news was everyone got experience a year in advance, so that should definitely carry over to this seaÎ_son.”

The Blue Demons’ success last season was unquestionably a testament to the coaching of Bruno, who enters his 27th season at the helm. Bruno served as assisÎ_tant coach to the gold-medal winning Team USA women’s national Olympic team in London over the summer, and returns this season to a full team of 13 players – some carryovers hungry for another tourney berth, and others anxious to just get their collegiate careers underway.

As for the Magnificent Seven era, its time has come and gone. The moment DePaul walked off the court at Allstate Arena after its loss to Tennessee, the upcoming season was already in motion.

“That’s history,” said Bruno. “That’s what’s great about basketball is it’s a new seaÎ_son and this year’s team has to write its own page.

“College basketball moves so much faster than in pro sports, because year after year even one key player change can affect the entire team,” said Bruno. “It’s always a dynamic of what’s coming back in every little hamlet across the country – some might bring everyone back, some have 30 percent, some have 50 percent. That’s really what college basketball’s all about.”

While the Blue Demons will be without Hampton, Mulchrone, Ortiz and Pikes this season, all graduating seniors last year, a fresh crop of newcomers – Brandi Harvey-Carr, Megan Podkowa and Brooke Schulte – enter to support and learn from the team’s veterÎ_ans. Six-foot-four forward Kelsey Smith, who enrolled with the team in January, will be available to play following the autumn quarter.

“Three or four could be the highest place we could be picked in the Big East,” said Bruno. “That’s what I’m thinking as I take a look around the league, and it’s a great conference. But that’s prognostication, that’s prediction. There’s just a lot of unknowns.”

One certainty is that under Bruno, this year’s Blue Demons squad will give it everyÎ_thing they have to claim the program’s 18th straight NCAA Tournament berth.

Yet despite returning 86 percent of its “magnificent” group and bringing in a handful of new talent, the Blue Demons were ranked the 25th and last team on the first 2012-2013 AP Poll and left completely off the USA Today Coaches Poll.

But is this something that concerns Bruno, Olympic champion and one of the best coaches in college basketball? Hardly.

“Rankings are previews, but we’re always concerned with our reviews,” said Bruno. “Whenever we’re ranked in preseason, we have to caution the team about being overly stuck on themselves based on a prognostication – the facts of the matter are what we do that gets us in the right position at the end of the season are most important. True rankÎ_ings happen on the floor.”