After tying for third place in the MWC (8-6) record, advancing to the title game of the conference tourney for the second straight year, finishing the year with a 19-13 overall winning record, and a first victory in post season play since 1982, the BYU women's basketball program looks to extend its winning ways into 2001-2002.
First year head coach Jeff Judkins has a lot to be excited about as he takes over the helm of the women's team.
"We have a lot of depth coming back this year and pretty much everyone returning knows what to expect both on offense and defense," he said. "We're also a little bigger size-wise and have an experienced backcourt. "
Leading BYU for her third straight year is returning junior All-American Erin Thorn, who led the team in scoring with an average of 15.5 points and 4.5 rebounds a game. Thorn was named to the MWC's First Team along with returning starting guard Stacy Jensen who was the Cougars' second leading scorer with 9.8 points and 2.8 rebounds. The dynamic guard duo contributed a total of 810 of the 2180 points on the squad with Thorn tallying 228 of the overall points.
"Stacy and Erin can be one of the best back-courts in the country, and definitely one of the top in our conference," Judkins said. They have consistently played well together and know each others strengths and weaknesses. Both of them have worked very hard in the off-season to improve their games in order to help this team step up. I expect a big year from both of them."
The Cougar team will be without its top rebounder, Caroline Beus, who finished her collegiate career with team high 5.9 boards a game. To fill that void, junior Jennifer Leitner is expected to take on that role as she followed Beus on the rebounding category grabbing 5.4 boards in 20 games. Leitner struggled early in the season from a foot injury but was a strong force for BYU late in the year, especially in league play.
"Jennifer Leitner is the most versatile player in our league and in order for our team to succeed, Leitner being healthy is incredibly important. Our team struggled last year without her, and our team success would suffer without her."
Also back this season are MWC Newcomer of the Year Julie Whetten and UVSC transfer Chanell Rose who won a starting spot on the team early on in the year.
Senior forward Lisa Osguthorpe will finish her collegiate career in top form as the team's top defensive player and one of the best defenders in the conference.
"Lisa is by no question the best defender in our league," Judkins said. "Her performance in the tournament was the best way for her to end last season. She really came on and played the kind of basketball I know that she will be striving to play this year. Julie had a super freshman year and that showed by earning the MWC Newcomer of the Year. We will continue to depend a lot on her as she improves her skills and makes her game better. Chanell has prepared herself for this season by getting in the best shape of her life. By having surgery and getting into great shape, she has made the most of her off-season. Chanell will have several different roles, as she will have to play both the four and five positions for us. I have no question that these three girls can be a big part of this team reaching the top."
Heather Cheesman will add upon her successful freshman season and be joined by sister Danielle who comes to the BYU program from Mountain View High School in Orem, Utah with a host of accolades including USA Today's Girl's High School Athlete of the Year.
"This is going to be a great opportunity for me to coach the Cheesman sisters. They are both very different and yet alike at the same time. Heather has the great outside shot and really looks for the three-pointer, while Danielle is more of an inside-aggressive player. Hopefully, both of them will learn from each other and have a fun experience playing together. I am expecting big things from both of them."
Other newcomers for 2001-2002 include redshirt center Lisa Hansen who sat out last season after transferring from UCSB. Melanie Pearson, a 6-1 senior guard/forward combo transfer from UCLA will finish her career donning the Cougar blue. Another transfer joining the team is 6-4 junior center Ashleigh Chamberlain, from Kanab, Utah who played two seasons at UVSC. Freshman Kali Taylor a 5-11 guard from Lyman, Utah, will also join the team this year.
"We had a great recruiting year. We were able to sign Kali Taylor, Danielle Cheesman, Ashleigh Chamberlain, and Melanie Pearson. Having Lisa Hansen sitting out for us last year has provided us with perhaps the best nucleus of newcomers to our program, which will give us the depth that we need to be major contenders in the conference," said Judkins. "I am looking forward to coaching them. It's a new experience for all of us, and a new system for most of the players. All of them have a great feel for the game and are very hard workers who will do whatever it takes to make this team win."
The Cougars' schedule this season is one of its toughest yet as the team is set to play three top 25 programs from last year in Oregon, Arkansas and Texas. Other difficult road games will be in Los Angeles on Nov. 27 and 29 as BYU takes on Pac-10 powerhouses UCLA and USC. The Cougars will travel to play in the Lone Star state three time this season, once on Nov. (20) at the Univ. of Texas, twice in December (8) at SMU and (22) at TCU.
At the Marriott Center in pre-season games BYU hoops fans will get to see a Cougars vs Cougars matchup on Nov. 24 when Washington State is in town. Then in December, Oregon makes an appearance on the 12th followed by Southern Utah on the 29th.
"I am really excited about the schedule this year. This season looks to be the most difficult in the conference. We play several top teams, and for us to achieve our goals of getting to the NCAA Tournament and Final Four, playing the top teams is imperative. I will always stress playing the top teams. It will be challenging for us, but through hard work and determination we will have a successful season."
MWC action begins at home for BYU this season with Colorado State on Jan. 10 followed by Wyoming on Jan. 12. SDSU and UNLV will be in town on Jan. 31 and Feb. 2. During the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, BYU hosts the Air Force Academy on Feb. 14 and the Lobos of New Mexico on Feb. 16. The final home league game is on Feb. 23 against instate rival Utah in a 4 p.m. tip off. BYU's final two conference games will be on the road against UNLV and SDSU before heading to the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas for the MWC Championships, beginning Mar. 6.
The Cougar team will compete in one tournament this year, at the Pioneer Classic, hosted by the University of Denver, Dec. 14 and 15.