BYU's women's basketball team is a team on a mission for the 2000-20001 season, a mission that includes a conference championship and advancing further in the NCAA tournament.
With a core of five returning letterwinners, including two starters, the Cougar team is focusing its mission on another 20-plus winning season, a conference title and getting past the first round of March's "Big dance."
Freshman All-America Erin Thorn tops the letterwinner list for BYU as she begins her sophomore year. Thorn, who led the team in scoring last year and was the MWC's Freshman of the Year, will team up with junior point guard Stacy Jensen to give the Cougars' one of the most productive back courts in the country. The duo combined for an average of 21.5 points and 3.50 assists per game last year. Thorn scored in double figures 24 times and Jensen 13.
"Erin and Stacy had tremendous years for us last season. They really play well together," said coach Shippen. "Both were at the top of the list in steals, assists, scoring and three-point shooting. We will ride on their coattails as far as they can take us. Erin had a wonderful freshman year, and she didn't play like a freshman."
Shippen returns for his fourth year as BYU's head women's basketball coach. Last year's 22-9, 10-4 record was the first NCAA appearance for the program in seven years. In 1998 the team went to the WNIT.
"I'm excited for this season to get underway. We have a great group of student-athletes with a great work ethic who will lead by example," added Shippen.
Junior forward Lisa Osguthorpe, who averaged 4.5 ppg and 2.6 rpg a game last year and started in 11 of 31 games, will bring a lot of playing experience to the squad. Also back for her second year in the Cougar blue is sophomore Jennifer Leitner. She was the team's second leading rebounder coming off the bench and led the team in that category in conference games. Leitner was one of the top rebounders in the Mountain West Conference.
A big question for the BYU team is filling the void left by graduating seniors Jill Adams and Cady Williams, two of last year's leading scorers. Lori Cuff who also had a strong presence on defense and in rebounding also graduated. This year's Cougar roster includes two freshman players who are known for their scoring abilities. Freshman forward Heather Cheesman who redshirted last year along with newcomer Julie Whetton are expected to play crucial roles in filling that void. Cheesman has a quick release and ability to score both inside and outside while Whetton is BYU's highest scoring player signed last year. At Silver City High School, Whetton averaged 30.0 points, 9.2 rebounds and 6.0 assist and was New Mexico's USA Today Player of the Year in 1999-00.
"Heather redshirted for us last year and has been working hard and getting stronger. She has also improved on her long range shooting from the perimiter," said Shippen. "Julie had an awesome high school career and as she adjusts to the college game she will be an asset offensively and defensively in our program."
Part of Coach Shippen success at BYU has come from his ability and experience with athletes from the JC ranks and this year is no different. Seniors Caroline Beus and Jorja Cox bring junior college experience from Ricks College and Columbia Basin JC, respectively. Newcomers Channell Rose joins the BYU team after a year at Utah Valley State College and senior transfer Kaly Gillette-Shippen played at Ricks College as well as a year at San Diego State. Brittany Larson is also back for her second season and she comes in with good ouside shooting and a very good re-bounder.
The other successful Shippen connection is Orem, Utah's Mountain View High School pipeline. On the roster this year are alumnus Osguthorpe, Thorn and Cheesman.
A very tough and competitive 2000-01 schedule will give the Cougar players an opportunity to play against some of the best women's basketball programs in the country, featuring seven teams who competed in the last year's NCAA Women's Basketball Championship. Shippen's BYU team will go up against UCLA and Arizona early in the season with the Bruins making their first appearance at the Marriott Center since 1987. Others who will take to the court in Provo include Montana, Weber State, Marquette and Southern Methodist, all in December. Nebraska rounds out the Cougars home schedule on January 3 right before MWC action begins.
In MWC play, the Cougars mission to win the title starts on the road on January 11th at San Diego State and then at UNLV on the 13th. Last year's BYU team finished with a 10-4 league record to claim the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament, finally losing to Utah in the title game. Earlier in the year, the Cougars posted a first-ever win over their instate-rivals in the Huntsman Center for their first win in Salt Lake City in seven years. Part of BYU's 10-4 conference record included 5-2 records at home and on the road.
"Our conference is very young. We and Air Force had the most graduating starters with three. All of the rest of the teams lost two starters to graduation," commented coach Shippen. "The league is going to do very well with a lot of experienced players coming back. It is going to be very balanced."
With a group of very athletic, talented, hardworking student-athletes, all indications are that Trent Shippen and his Cougar team should have no problems reaching their mission goals for this year, a 20-plus winning season, an MWC title, and advancing further in the NCCA Championships. It can be a possible mission.