Experience will be key this year for the BYU women's basketball team. The Cougars lost just five players from last year's WNIT tournament team, and are returning 12 veterans from the 1998-99 season.
BYU went 16-13 overall last season and 9-5 in conference play, and looks to improve upon those results this season. Serving as the backbone of the team will be co-captains Jill Adams and Cady Williams, both starters on last year's squad.
Adams and Williams each started in every game for the Cougars last year and were the team's two leading scorers. Williams, a guard, was the team's scoring leader last season, averaging 12.6 points and 4.6 rebounds per game en route to being named to the WAC's Pacific Division All Conference Second Team.
"Cady has improved on all aspects of her game this season. Her strength and mental toughness is as good as I've seen her," said BYU head coach Trent Shippen. "Her example and quiet leadership, along with her scoring abilities, will be keys for us."
Williams' counterpart, Adams, was second on the 1998-99 team in scoring and BYU's leading rebounder, compiling stats of 10.5 ppg and averaging six rebounds a game. Adams, a 6-3 forward, was also the team's best free throw shooter, converting on 52 of 60 attempts (.867) to join Williams on the WAC Pacific Division All-Conference Second Team.
"Jill has worked really hard all summer to take her game to another level," Shippen said. "We look to Jill to be a go-to player when we need a big score. She will lead us on the fast break as well."
Joining the strong core of senior team members is forward Lori Cuff. Cuff appeared in 25 of the Cougars' 29 games last season and started in all but three. Cuff was just behind Adams in the rebounding category, pulling down 5.4 boards per game while averaging 7.2 ppg.
"(Lori's) leadership and desire to make our team the best, along with her defensive rebounds and scoring inside, will be keys this year," Shippen.
Additional returning seniors for the Cougars include Renae Hansen, Alisha Griffeth and Mari Carpenter. Hansen returned from an ACL injury last season to start in 13 games for the Cougars, only to tear her ACL again against UTEP on January 28. Before her injury, Hansen led the team in assists and averaged 7.1 ppg. After a summer of rehabilitation, Hansen is ready to finish her final season strong and contribute additional depth to the Cougar squad.
Griffeth, a senior, contributed significantly to the team last season after transferring from Morehead State. Her three-point shooting ability will particularly be of strength to this year's squad. Joining the team mid season will be Carpenter, a star hitter for the BYU volleyball team who connected on 62 percent of her shots in 10 games last year.
Several underclassmen should step up this season as well. Sophomore guard Stacy Jensen will be the team's point guard after starting in 11 games last season as a freshman. Jensen chalked up 70 assists and 35 steals last season for the Cougars.
"Stacy has worked really hard on her strength, ball handling and shooting skills. She will be our quarterback on the floor," Shippen said.
Also key for the Cougars will be junior April Hayes, who came off the bench for the Cougars last year to average 4.6 points and 2.7 rebounds per game. Sophomore forward Lisa Osguthorpe, an Orem native, also saw action in each game as a freshman and is prepared to assume a greater role for the team this season.
"Lisa has probably increased more in speed and strength than anyone on the team," Shippen said. "We plan to use her abilities both in transition and half-court offense. She can go inside and outside."
Junior Jorja Cox will be coming off a redshirt season, and should also get some minutes this season.
Just three new freshman join the Cougar squad, but for what the recruiting class lacks in quantity it more than compensates for in quality. At the front of the pack is Erin Thorn, a 5-10 guard who was Osguthorpe's teammate at Mountain View High School in Orem. Thorn was one of the most highly recruited freshmen in the nation and was named the 1999 2000 Pre-Season NCAA Freshman of the Year by the Woman's Basketball News Service. A deadly scoring threat, Thorn will make an immediate impact on the Cougar squad.
"Erin has a scorer's mentality and shoots well off the dribble and off the pass," Shippen said. "The quicker she adjusts to this level, the better our team is going to be."
Also joining the BYU team are freshman forwards Brittany Larson and Heather Cheesman. Cheesman also played at Mountain View with Thorn and Osguthorpe.
The Cougars will use its veteran leadership and young talent to improve on the successes of last season and continue into a formidable presence on a conference and national level.
"Our goals are to be a presence in the new Mountain West Conference and ultimately to win an invitation to the NCAA tournament," Shippen said.
With the mix of talent and experience the BYU women's basketball team has this year, the Cougars are well on their way.