Kieger and Golden Eagles Take Championship 100 Years in the Making

The matchup seemed inevitable. Throughout the entire tournament, Marquette and DePaul dominated their opponents in their collision course to the championship, renewing a rivalry going on its 100th year.

Counting men’s and women’s basketball, the Marquette Golden Eagles and  rivalry with the DePaul Blue Demons have met 185 times since their first meeting in 1917. Back then, Marquette was known as the Hilltoppers, paying homage to their original location on a hill between North 10th and State Streets. The Blue Demons were still known as the D-men, a name inspired by their football sweaters back when both schools still had  teams. Since then, DePaul’s name evolved into the Blue Demons from D-men and Marquette nickname has changed from Hilltoppers to the Warriors in 1954.

In 1964, the Warriors hired Al McGuire.McGuire led Marquette to an NIT championship in 1970 and an NCAA Championship in 1977 in his final year coaching the program. Today, the home-court of the Golden Eagles is named after him and the home of Marquette Women’s Basketball is referred to as the “Al” which is short for the Al McGuire Center.

The Blue Demons have their own legend. Ray Meyer was the coach of the DePaul Blue Demons for 42 years. In his first season, Meyer took the Blue Demons to the Final Four in their 1942 – 1943 season. Meyer continued to build his legacy, winning the NIT championship in his third season as coach in the 1945 tournament. In 1979 Meyer and his star, Mark Aguirre journeyed to the Final Four one more time, coming within two points of the Larry Bird led Indiana State Sycamores. Today’s Blue Demons play their home games on Ray Meyer Court.

While the championships and Final Four appearances jump off the page of the history books. One of Ray Meyer’s greatest contributions to DePaul basketball began at his summer basketball camp where a young man named Doug Bruno, who did not have the money to attend camp cleaned the latrines and worked in the kitchens to pay his way through camp.

Bruno built a bond with Meyer built a bond over the years while Bruno developed into a very skilled, and highly recruited basketball player. As teams harassed Bruno into the summer, coach Meyer told Bruno that he would like him to come play for the Blue Demons, offering the boy who cleaned the bathrooms a scholarship to play point guard for the Blue Demons in Lincoln Park.

Bruno accepted coach Meyer’s offer. Red-shirting his freshmen season ,Bruno played from  1968 to 1793, leading the team in assists in 1972. Over those five seasons, Bruno  learned from Meyers’ basketball philosophy, laying the early foundation of his own place in Blue Demons history.

After graduating Bruno coached high school basketball while working for DePaul in the Athletic Department before returning to the Blue Demons as the head coach of their women’s basketball team, led by DePaul’s current athletic director, Jean Lenti-Ponsetto.

Bruno then left to coach professional women’s basketball for two seasons before the league failed and Bruno took an assistant coaching position under one of Ray Meyer’s key assistants, Frank McGrath. Bruno returned once again to the Blue Demons in 1988 where he has stayed ever since, turning the Blue Demons into a national powerhouse. Bruno’s Blue Demons tied for first place in the North Star Conference in his first season back and went to the NCAA and a Big East super power since joining the conference in 2005. In his combined 31 seasons coaching the Blue Demons, Bruno’s teams have reached the NCAA tournament 22 times, won his conference  regular season seven times, winning the last four season titles in succession.

The accolades have joined Bruno in the rare company with his mentor Ray Meyer and and Al McGuire. Today, DePaul hosts their home games on Doug Bruno Court inside the Frank McGrath Athletic Center. The night before the championship, coach Bruno recalled playing against Marquette and reflected on the rivalry.

As of the Big East Women’s Championship game, Marquette held a 73-45 advantage on the men’s side. while the Blue Demons held a 42-25 lead on the women’s side, combing for an overall 98-87 basketball series record in favor of the Marquette.

This season the Golden Eagles were the only team to beat the Blue Demons in Big East play. The Blue Demons however, had never lost before to the Golden Eagles in the post season and now had their star point guard Jessica January healthy for the first time against the Golden Eagles this year.

Marquette though, now has a Doug Bruno to their Al McGuire. At just 33-years-old, Carolyn Kieger has turned the Marquette Golden Eagles into on of the most formidable teams in the Big East in just her third season. Like Bruno, Kieger too played point guard for her alma mater. Kieger started all four seasons for Marquette from 2003 to 2006, playing her way into All-Conference Honors in three seasons. Kieger capped her playing career by being named a finalist for the Nancy Lieberman award, given to the nation’s top point guard in women’s basketball and finishing as the all-time leader in assists for the program she now leads from the sidelines.

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Carolyn Kieger handles the ball for the Golden Eagles. photo courtesy of Anonymouseagle.com

The Golden Eagles and the Blue Demons battled back and forth all night before Marquette was able to finally take control of the game in the fourth quarter, defeating the top seeded Blue Demons 86-78.

Marquette was lifted by their five woman rotation of sophomores who combined for 80 of the Golden Eagles 86 points; Erika Davenport (6), Allazia Blockton (12), Danielle King (14), Amani Wilborn (20), and Natiesha Hiedman (28). Hiedeman stole the show all evening, going six for ten from deep and keeping the Al McGuire Center crowd at a decibel defying volume. Her night was highlighted by a halfcourt buzzer beater at the end of the first quarter to give the Golden Eagles a one point lead and landing her on Sports Center’s Top 10 Plays later that night.

After checking out for the final minute, Hiedeman was embraced by a teary-eyed Carolyn Kieger after playing the first 39 minutes. Kieger may be on her way to having a court named after her as well someday after winning the Golden Eagles first ever post-season victory over the Blue Demons in championship fashion with one of the youngest cores in the country.

 

Kieger could not have been more proud of what her team accomplished, breaking down to tears in the post-game press conference with a freshly cut-down net adorned around her neck.

With Kieger’s five best rotation players all in their sophomore season, the Marquette Golden Eagles are here to stay, and will look to challenge the Blue Demons at the top of the Big East for years to come.

Going on 100, the basketball rivalry between Marquette and DePaul is in excellent health. As coach Bruno said, perhaps Al McGuire was “up there in heaven” watching. The rivalry and legacies of the coaches who have competed have been immortalized, forever stained into the hardwood history as well as their home floors.

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