BYU women’s basketball is returning for the 2016-17 season after a first-round loss in the NCAA tournament last season.
“This team has a lot of depth,” head coach Jeff Judkins said. “We have a lot of kids that hopefully, through many years of learning from their coaches, will understand that their opportunity will come and they will be able to make the most of it.”
The Cougars went 26-7 last season, winning the regular season West Coast Conference championship and making the NCAA tournament as a No. 7 seed. Their 78-69 loss to the No. 10 seed Missouri in the tournament has BYU looking for redemption.
But the team will have to replace its second all-time leading scorer, Lexi Eaton Rydalch. Rydalch led the team in scoring last year, averaging 24.2 points per game.
Judkins said it will be a team effort to replace Rydalch.
“I’ve seen a lot of improvement in our returners, which we’re excited about,” Judkins said. “But everyone has to step it up a notch. It’s not just one person, it’s on all of them.”
Despite having a lot to replace, the team has lofty goals for the 2016-17 campaign.
The Cougars are aiming to capture the WCC regular season championship, the WCC tournament title and then make it to the NCAA tournament. If the Cougars succeed, it will mark the fourth year in a row the team has made the “Big Dance.”
While accomplishing these goals won’t be easy, the players are confident in their ability to make an impact nationally and not just in the WCC.
“The year before last year, we won the tournament. Last year, we won the conference, but didn’t win the tournament. So this year, we want to get them both,” senior Kristine Nielson said. “And we want to make a splash in the NCAA.”
Nielson is projected to be in the starting line up alongside returning players Cassie Broadhead, Makenzi Pulsipher, Kalani Purcell and Jasmine Moody.
Purcell, an All-American and the 2016 WCC Newcomer of the Year, averaged a double-double last season (12 points and 12.6 rebounds) and led the team in assists per game with 4.7. Pulsipher returns for her final season after playing in every game last year and scoring 12.7 points per game.
The 2016-17 season features five newcomers to the team along with three returning starters and nine returning letter winners.
The fresh faces will be Liz Eaton, Brenna Chase, Ashton Williams, Jessica Chatman and Shalae Salmon.
Eaton prepped at Maple Mountain High School and led the state of Utah in scoring as a junior.
Chase played her high school ball in Colorado and won the state’s 5A state championship as a junior.
Williams began her college career in 2013-14 as a member of the Air Force basketball team. She then departed for an LDS mission to Peru before transferring to BYU.
Chatman signed her letter of intent in 2013, but delayed her enrollment to serve an LDS mission in Michigan.
Salmon is a New Zealand native who played on the national U16 and U15 teams before coming to Provo.
Returning letter winners include Pulsipher, Purcell, Moody, Nielson, Broadhead, Amanda Wayment, Micaelee Orton, MaCayla Hanks and Brooke Romney Clawson.
Broadhead will make an immediate impact this season as the starting point guard for the team. Broadhead played in 15.8 minutes per game last season and averaged 3.9 points and 1.6 assists.
Judkins said that Broadhead has adjusted well to taking on a new role.
“She’s done a good job of running our team and she has come a long way,” Judkins said of Broadhead’s play.
She also hopes to live up to the expectations of previous point guards.
“We have had a great tradition of great point guards here,” Broadhead said. “Hopefully I can follow in their footsteps.” She’ll have big shoes to fill, as BYU has a long history of strong point guard play. Both Erin Thorn and Hayley Steed have led the Cougars to success in the past 15 years.
Broadhead — and the rest of the Cougars — will have their work cut out for them. Their schedule is one of the toughest in recent memory. The team has a number of high-profile games, including a matchup with the No. 16 Oklahoma Sooners, the Washington Huskies, the Utah Utes and the Gonzaga Bulldogs.
The Sooners will travel to Provo on Nov. 19, the Utes will host the Cougars on Dec. 10, the Huskies will come to the Marriott Center on Dec. 22 and the Bulldogs will host BYU on Feb. 2 and come to Provo on Feb. 25.
The four schools combined to go 84-50 last season, with two NCAA tournaments (Oklahoma and Washington) and two NIT appearances (Utah and Gonzaga).
The BYU women’s basketball team begins its regular season on Nov. 11 against Utah Valley University in Orem.