DePaul's Mission is Deep NCAA Run

The DePaul women's basketball team has been flying under the radar nationally for the last few years. They are usually ranked in the top 25 and have been a frequent participant in the NCAA Tournament, making the tournament seven years in a row. They know what it takes to be a winner.

However, the women's team has not made a splash since they went to the Sweet 16 back in the 2005-06 season. That deep tournament run has been missing in Lincoln Park. Both players and coaches are hungry and striving to return to the NCAA tournament, but they are not content with just making it there.

"Obviously one of our goals is to get back to the NCAA Tournament, but we want to advance," said Assistant Coach Nicci Hays-Fort, who was filling in for Head Coach Doug Bruno at Big East Media Day while Bruno attended his father's funeral.

Hays-Fort added, "They worked really hard and they are hungry to set a new mark."

The Blue Demons are looking to pick up where they left off last year where they finished 23-10 and lost in the first round to San Diego State. This year they bring back four regular starters in Deirdre Naughton, Sam Quigley, Felicia Chester and Keisha Hampton.

The Demons though must replace the scoring and rebounding that departing forward Natasha Williams provided.

Despite the loss of Williams, pundits still expect the Demons to do well. DePaul was ranked 17th in the preseason Associated Press poll, 25th in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches poll and were picked to finish third (tied with Louisville) in the Big East behind Connecticut and Notre Dame.

The players know some pressure will be on them, but they know that comes with the territory.

Naughton, a 5-10 senior guard, returns with her team-leading 15.5 points per game. She says she is equipped to handle the pressure.

"We have a lot of goals this year," proclaimed Naughton. "(To finish) top three in the Big East is one of our biggest goals. We're all really excited. We worked hard in the preseason. We want to make it farther in the NCAA tournament than we have in the past."

Quigley, a 5-6 junior guard who is third among returning leading scorers with 9.9 points per game, also has high expectations.

"We're really confident," Quigley admitted. She adds that there is hunger from within to advance in the NCAA tournament. "That's something that we're thinking about. It's (losing in the first round) happened three years in a row. There's motivation (to get back and advance)."

Last year's squad also saw the emergence of two talented players in 6-2 sophomore forward Keisha Hampton and 6-3 junior forward Felicia Chester.

Hampton was one the better freshmen in the Big East last year as she was selected to the Big East All-Freshmen team as well as being named twice Big East rookie of the week. Hampton, who is second among leading returning scorers with 10.4 points per game, learned a lot from her first go-round in the rugged Big East .She is excited at the prospect of her sophomore year.

"After my freshman year, I learned that this is a hard conference to play in," Hampton explained. "I learned that consistency is the most important thing. The more consistent you are the better chance you have to win in this league."

Chester also returns to the frontcourt and will have to pick up some of the slack with the departure of Williams. Felicia is the team's leading returning rebounder with 5.8 points per game. Chester is up to the task and remains confident in her team.

"We have a lot of returners coming back so I think the strength of this team is experience," said Chester. "We obviously lost Natasha, who was a big part in the post, but we definitely think we'll be able to pick up (the slack)."

DePaul will officially open up their season on November 13th when they host Central Michigan at McGrath Arena. The Demons have a tough schedule ahead of them. Looking ahead, the Demons will tangle with Stanford, who are ranked preseason # 2 in both polls, on the road on December 13th. Then in February is a showdown at home against the defending champs and the consensus #1 team in the country, the Connecticut Huskies. Two years ago the Demons dropped a 77-76 heartbreaker at McGrath to the Huskies, a game they had the lead in until Connecticut's Ketia Swanier hit a layup to win the game in the final seconds.

This year the game aims to be special again and Hays-Fort knows the fans are craving an upset.

"The Uconn game is always circled," Hays-Fort remarked. "Everyone's always up for that game. (The ‘08 game at McGrath) left a bitter taste in our kid's mouth. It seems every person you talk to watched that game on TV, so you're constantly being reminded about it. It's going to be tough, it's going to be a battle, but we're looking forward to going out and compete and give them what we got."

Whether it's the opening game against Central Michigan or Connecticut, every game will be a battle and a precursor to the goal of making the NCAA Tournament, and this time hopefully the women can make a sustained run in the NCAA tournament ala the 2005-06 squad.

"They're really hungry," concluded Hays-Fort. "They seem really focused and ready for a great year, like this is for us."

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