It's been crowded on the bench lately at DePaul.
The women's basketball team has suffered through injury-plagued seasons the last couple of years and would show up to games with more players on the bench in sweatsuits than in uniforms.
Sometimes, only six or seven players would wind up in the box score.
As another college season returns, with exhibition games that started this week, the Blue Demons are hoping they're due for a major reprieve from the injury bug.
A healthy DePaul, picked to win the revamped Big East Conference, is deep enough in talent to do major damage this season beyond league play.
"We always have high aspirations and we've achieved a lot over the years," said longtime head coach Doug Bruno, who is entering his 28th year at the helm. "But there is still one level of achievement left. We want to fight our way into a Final Four. We want to be the kind of team that is talked about every year as a team that can get there.
"We want to use our depth to our advantage. We're going to play everybody."
The Blue Demons, which faced St. Xavier and Illinois Wesleyan this week in exhibitions, will open with Harvard on Nov. 8 as part of the Maggie Dixon Classic at McGrath-Phillips Arena.
DePaul is particularly deep on the perimeter. Point guard Brittany Hrynko, a spunky junior out of Philadelphia who specializes in up-tempo basketball and dazzling passes, was named the preseason Big East player of the year. Last season, she averaged 14.7 points and 4.8 assists per game and earned first-team all-Big East honors. She also shared the most improved player of the year award with Connecticut's Kelly Faris.
"Britt's ability to practice at game speed when she's just doing a shooting drill by herself has helped her improve," Bruno said. "She's gotten even better and she's so coachable."
And Hrynko won't have to do too much by herself. She has an equally good ballhandler and passer at her side in sophomore guard Chanise Jenkins, who also was one of the top playmakers in the Big East last season (4.1 apg).
Meanwhile, former Hersey star Megan Rogowski, redshirt senior Kelsey Reynolds and freshmen ShaKeya Graves and Jessica January will also figure prominently into the backcourt rotation.
The Blue Demons also have players such as Centrese McGee, Megan Podkowa and Brooke Schulte, who play either guard or forward.
"We can go really small and be really quick," Bruno said.
When DePaul goes bigger, the question marks surface.
Forward Jasmine Penny, a 6-footer with guard skills who was among the best Big East shooters last year, is back. But she's missing frontcourt mate Katherine Harry, the leading rebounder in the Big East.
And former St. Charles North star Kelsey Smith, a 6-foot-4 forward, could miss the first month of the season with an old knee injury that has resurfaced.
"The big thing for us this year is 'Can we establish our inside game, can we establish a consistent inside presence,'" Bruno said.
Bruno is counting on the emergence of 6-foot-4 redshirt freshman Brandi Harvey-Carr, who missed most of last season with a neck injury. She started playing basketball only three years ago, as a junior in high school, so her upside is off the charts. She's already a good shooter and rebounder and can run the floor.
"As much as we like to run and shoot and let the ball rip, you just can't play without an inside presence," Bruno said, noting he needs that from Harvey-Carr.
More than anything, though, the Blue Demons need to stay healthy. Heavyweights Connecticut, Notre Dame, Rutgers and Louisville may be gone from the Big East, but the league remains formidable, and playing short-handed is not recommended.
"When you look at the mega conferences, I would certainly include us as being one," Bruno said of the new Big East, which includes Butler, Creighton, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John's, Villanova and Xavier. "We should be viewed right there with the best.
"Everyone looks at us and says, 'Well, you don't have UConn anymore. But I say, 'The ACC, the SEC, the Big 10, the Big 12 and the PAC 12 don't have UConn either.' Those are still tough leagues, and we still have a very tough league. The way I see it is that we didn't lose (Connecticut, Notre Dame, Rutgers and Louisville), they lost us."
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