Players cheer the team at home in the Marriott Center (Photo by Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo)
As the 2008-09 season approaches, the BYU women’s basketball program looks to return to its winning tradition and championship caliber team. The Cougars will be anchored by two returning starters (Shawnee Slade and Mindy Nielson), who finished at the top of the stats in points, rebounds, and assists and will expand on that this year. Also back to the Cougar line-up is point-guard Haley Hall after being out the past two seasons due to ACL injuries.
BYU will rely on a team made up of 12 letterwinners and six newcomers that are expected to bring back a winning attitude, contend for the conference title and championship, and compete at the highest levels of the NCAA tournament.
“We’re excited to have Haley Hall back and a lot of the young players are maturing. They have a good understanding of our system and what it takes to play at BYU,” said coach Judkins.
“We’ll have great leadership form our seniors as well as junior guard Jaime Judkins. They’re all ready to take on the challenge. And, we have different players that we can put on the floor and that’s great for a coach to have that kind of strength on his team.”
Highlighting the team will be seniors Shawnee Slade, Cassie King and Sarah Red-Hostetter. Slade, who started in every game last year, was second on the team in both scoring and rebounding averaging 7.4 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. King, a 6-3 center played in all games with an average of 4.7 points and 2.7 boards per contest. Red-Hostetter returns for her final season after seeing significant playing time in 21 games last year. She averaged 2.7 points per game.
Coach Judkins is looking forward to having Slade’s athletic abilities and a seasoned player that understands the BYU system. “This will be Shawnee’s big year. Her role has changed every year on the team. She’ll lead by example both on and off the court,” he added.
Key returners will be sophomore guard Mindy Nielson who started in 19 games last year and averaged 7.3 points, 2.9 rebounds, and led the team in assists with a total of 80 for an 2.8 average. Also back in the Cougar lineup will be sophomore point-guard Haley Hall who played in seven games during the 2006-07 season before an ACL injury ended the season. After a year of rehabilitation on the knee, Hall was set to return to her point-guard spot in 2007-08, but reinjured the same knee and was unable to play once again.
Jaime Judkins is the lone junior on the squad. Judkins had a solid year at the guard spot last year and will be relied on to continue her hard working attitude and strong play.
Also back for their second season on the BYU team will be sophomores Jazmine Foreman, Megan Marks, Keilani Moeaki and Coriann Wood. The four return after playing significant minutes as freshmen and learning to compete at the college level.
“Mindy will get to play at her true 2-guard position. Keilani and Coriann will be able to rotate at the 3 or 4 spot and Jazmine has come into this season way more seasoned and she has a much better understanding of what she needs to do for the team,” adds coach Judkins.
“Megan will play at the 4 or 5 spot and will help us stretch the defense. She’s got good size, and she’s a great defender. These four players are coming in with a lot of maturity and an understanding of our system. They will make a big difference.”
The six newcomers that will be part of the team this season includes redshirt freshman Stephanie Buhler, a 6-0 forward who is a good outside shooter.
Coach Jeff Judkins signed four new freshmen that committed to play for BYU beginning this season. “We signed four girls whose talents and skills will help our team and program reach our goals and potential,” coach Judkins said. “Each one of them has different talents, skills and abilities that will help our team. All of them have played on winning teams and know what it takes to win.”
The class includes one guard and three forwards. High school teammates Jenteal Jackson, a 5-7 guard and Dani Peterson, a 6-1 forward both competed at Skyline High School in Salt Lake City, Utah. Another Utahn, Alexis Kaufusi is also a 6-1 forward who hails from Provo, Utah and prepped at Timpview High School. Kristin Riley, a 6-3 forward from San Clemente, Calif., and San Clemente HS rounds out the incoming 2008-09 class. Riley’s older sister Lauren played four seasons with the BYU program, graduating in 2008.
“Kristen is the highest ranked player we’ve ever recruited. She’s a great rebounder, has physical and mental toughness and is good passer. Alexis brings that inside physical presence, is a good rebounder, and will be a great post player for us. Dani has a great shot and knows what it takes to win. Jenteal is a smart player and she’ll be a good quarterback for us. She’ll be great at running our offense,” said Judkins.
The 2008-09 campaign will provide another tough test for the Cougar team. Women’s basketball fans will have the opportunity to see some of the top women’s programs in the country at the Marriott Center. BYU hosts Pac-10 power Oregon on Nov. 21 as well as Final Four participant University of Connecticut on Nov. 25.
Three instate rivals will make visits to Provo during the non-conference schedule. Southern Utah is in town on Nov. 28 followed by Weber State on Dec.10, and Utah State on Dec. 13. During the preseason schedule, the Cougar team will also play USC in Hawaii at the Seasider Challenge, Dec. 5-6 Wright State is the other team BYU is expected to play in that tournament. The Aggies of Arkansas State round out the December schedule as they make an appearance at the Marriott Center on the 30th.
“We have a great schedule this year,” said coach Judkins. “We have the opportunity to open the season playing two great teams that have a rich, winning tradition in UConn and Oregon and battle USC at the Seaside Challenger in Hawaii. The games with our instate rivals will also provide our fans with some great games.”
As in years past, the Mountain West Conference season will offer tough competition both at home and on the road. In the 2009 league race, BYU will be tested early hosting CSU on Jan. 10 and New Mexico on Jan. 17. The team’s first road trip is at TCU on Jan. 13, a game that will air live on The Mtn. On Jan. 21 and Jan. 24, the Cougars take to the road again playing at UNLV and SDSU.
“The conference will be a big challenge for us,” commented Judkins. “We have some tough road games early on the season. As always, it will be a dog fight and will be a close league race.”
Instate rival Utah comes to the Marriott Center on Jan. 28 followed by a game at Wyoming on Jan. 31. The month of February begins with a home contest vs. the Air Force Academy on Feb. 4. The following week the team travels to Ft. Collins to play the Rams of CSU on Feb. 11. On Valentine’s Day, the Cougars host TCU and then travel to Albuquerque for a match up at “The Pit” vs. New Mexico. During the past two seasons, the Cougars have had back-to-back victories against the Lobos on their home court. February 21 and 25 brings UNLV and San Diego State to the Marriott Center. The second match up with instate rival Utah is in Salt Lake City on Feb. 28, and is part of the Desert First Duel series between the two teams.
In early March, the Wyoming Cowgirls come to Provo on the 4th in a 7 p.m., tip off, and then finish league play at the Air Force Academy on Mar. 7.
The Cougars will then travel to Las Vegas to compete in the 2009 MWC Women’s Basketball Championships Mar. 11-14. The eventual champion gets an automatic invitation to the NCAA tournament.