Making it through the regular season with an undefeated record isn’t easy.
There have been a total of just five teams in the last four years to accomplish the feat – and this year’s DePaul squad is one of them.
The Blue Demons put together an impressive 15-0-3 record en route to claiming their first-ever BIG EAST regular season title, and they are in good company, joining defending champion and top-ranked UCLA (17-0-2) as the only two unbeatens heading into the postseason. (Virginia did it last year, while Memphis and Stanford did not lose in the 2011 regular season.)
“I’m proud of the consistency by this group over the course of an entire season,” DePaul head coach Erin Chastain said. “The longer it went, the more the pressure built up and I think our team has handled that pressure really well. That was fun for me to see because teams can crumble under that sort of pressure – they really stepped up with each game.”
DePaul concluded its stellar regular season run with a resounding 3-0 victory over St. John’s in a winner-take-all finale last Friday, earning the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye in the BIG EAST Championship.
“To finish the regular season unbeaten was awesome, but our group was so excited to beat St. John’s and win the regular season conference that I don’t know if they have stepped back and thought about how hard that actually is to do,” saidChastain, who was voted 2014 BIG EAST Coach of the Year. “No matter who you’re playing against, it’s really hard to go undefeated.”
The conference race came down to the last couple weeks, which should make for an exciting tournament. The Blue Demons will face No. 4 seed Marquette at 5 p.m. Friday, while No. 2 Georgetown and No. 3 St. John’s follow at 7:30 p.m. Both semifinal games, and the championship match, will be held at Belson Stadium on the campus of St. John’s University in Queens, N.Y.
“All throughout the season we were alternating positions at the top of the standings,” Chastain said. “There were a lot of tight games. As excited as we are that we won the regular season, we also recognize the talent of a Marquette or a Georgetown or a St. John’s brings. We have a lot of respect for them. It should be a really competitive tournament.”
DePaul’s success this year was built upon the foundation set by last season’s team which advanced to the NCAA Tournament. The 2013 Blue Demons led the league in goals against average last year (0.69), which were eight in scoring average 1.19 goals per game. This year, DePaul remained stout defensively (0.95 GAA), and almost doubled its goal production to 2.33 per game, which ranks 23rd nationally.
“We felt like defensively we were really good, and now we’ve added some different attacking personalities and I think that has helped us be a more balanced team,” Chastain said. “What is probably most special about this group is the seniors. In their freshman year they lost a lot of tight games and a lot of games in overtime, and I think they are a lot tougher because of that. They appreciate winning and scoring a lot more because of that.”
Players like freshman midfielder Alexa Ben, an All-BIG EAST Rookie selection, and sophomore forward Abby Reed, a transfer from Indiana State, have been an integral part of the Blue Demons’ increased offensive production. Ben has contributed a school single-season record 10 assists, while Reed ranks third in the nation with seven game-winning goals.
“They’ve stepped in right away and have made a huge impact for us,” Chastain said. “They are both pretty special attacking players. Not only that, but they have wonderful training mentalities. They’re really great competitors and they do well in big moments and take advantage of the opportunities they get.”
The Blue Demons will look to extend their program-best winning streak to 19 games against Marquette Friday.
AROUND THE NATION
No. 2 Florida State completed its first-ever unbeaten ACC regular season with a victory over Duke last Sunday. The Seminoles tied North Carolina for first place in the ACC standings, but FSU held the tiebreaker to earn the top seed in the league tournament. Florida State, which has claimed theACC regular season title for the third time in the last five years, will look to defend its 2013 ACC Tournament crown starting 5:30 p.m. Friday against Notre Dame in Greensboro, N.C. UNC and Virginia will tangle in the other ACC semifinal match.
After Dartmouth ended Harvard’s 13-game Ivy League unbeaten streak last weekend, the Crimson are in a must-win situation when they host Columbia on Saturday. If Harvard loses or ties and Dartmouth tops Cornell on Saturday, the Big Green can take the title.
Connecticut was the only team to beat No. 19 UCF during the American Athletic Conference regular season this year, but the top-seeded Knights are set for a rematch in the league semifinals at 5 p.m. Friday at South Florida’s Corbett Soccer Stadium. The Huskies’ 1-0 victory over the Knights Oct. 19 started them on a three-game shutout streak. Emily Armstrong and Allison Saucier have split time at goal, combining for eight shutouts – the most for UConn since 2010.
No. 15 BYU has already clinched the West Coast Conference title heading into the final weekend of the regular season, but the Cougars may have a tough road extending their 13-game unbeaten streak at Pepperdine on Saturday. With a victory, the No. 12 Waves will finish second in the league standings and be in contention to host a first-round NCAA Tournament match. BYU had its 11-game winning streak broken last week then they tied Saint Mary's, but bounced back with a win over Pacific.
No. 1 UCLA has clinched at least a share of the Pac-12 title and the automatic qualifier spot in the NCAA Tournament, but No. 3 Stanford still has a shot at becoming a co-champion with a win over No. 22 California Thursday and a Bruins’ loss Friday. UCLA travels to USC for the regular season finale.
NCAA TOURNAMENT SELECTIONS
Mark your calendars, set your alarms. The NCAA Division I women’s soccer selection show will be broadcast live at 4:30 p.m., Monday, Nov. 10, on NCAA.com. I’ll be back next week to break it down.
Amy Farnum Patronis covers Women's Division I College Soccer for College Soccer News. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.