The success of this year’s BYU women’s basketball team will depend largely on the contributions of newcomers.
Only two starters – junior guard Brenna Chase and sophomore center Sara Hamson – return from last year’s group that finished 16-14 overall and 11-7 in West Coast Conference play. Seniors Cassie Devashrayee, Malia Nawahine and Amanda Wayment have all moved on. There are 11 underclassmen, including eight freshmen that will help make up one of Jeff Judkins’ youngest teams ever.
A young roster has its disadvantages, but chemistry can be stronger among girls near the same age. The team spent ten days in Europe this summer on tour, posting quality time in practice and in games as well as roaming the streets of Rome and Venice getting to know one another.
“It brought us together,” BYU junior forward Shalae Salmon said on Monday at the team’s media day. “We bonded on and off the court. Chemistry is so important. It was really toxic last year. Even though I loved the team last year our chemistry really didn’t help with our game. We were in separate groups and not as close off the court.”
Hamson, a 6-foot-7 shot blocker, injured her knee while playing for the BYU volleyball team and probably won’t be available until December. Chase, who averaged 13.5 points and made 69 3-pointers, will carry the load early.
“I told her she’s going to have the other team’s best defender on her every night,” Judkins said. “She’ll have to do things a little bit differently. She’ll have to go through some of the same things that Cassie went through. Two years ago Brenna was a dumb little freshman but now she’s a seasoned veteran. That doesn’t happen overnight. She’s taken it to heart and done a great job.”
Chase is a team captain, along with Salmon and senior Jasmine Moody.
“The main thing we’ve been focusing on in practice is defense,” Chase said. “Juddy (Judkins) has really spent more time on defense than he has in the past, which is really good because defense wins championships. We’ve also been working on rebounding. I’ve done more rebounding drills than I’ve ever done in my life. We’re really trying to focus on that and change that so we don’t have the same issues there as we had last year.”
The eight freshmen have made quite an early impression. The Cougars were winning in a blowout in one of their European games and Judkins opted to play all freshmen in the second half. That group still outscored their opponent.
“Our freshmen this year have come in and surprised a lot of us girls, so it’s been good,” Chase said. “They’ve all showed us things we haven’t seen in most freshman classes coming in.”
Shaylee Gonzalez, a freshman from Gilbert, Arizona, is expected to contribute right away. She averaged 21 points per game as a senior and was the first player at Mesquite High School to score 2,000 career points.
“We’ve worked really hard in practices,” Gonzales said. “I came early in June and put in a lot of work. At first it was really hard for me to learn all the plays. I played on one club team and one high school team, and all the plays were the same. I had to learn really fast. I’ve learned so much already in just the four months I’ve been here. I’m excited to see what else I can learn.”
Sophomores Paisley Johnson and Maria Albiero earned playing time as freshmen and also return.
There are six athletes from foreign countries on the roster, including three from New Zealand (Salmon, Kaeden Tato, Kaylee Smiler), two from Brazil (Albiero and Babalu Ugwu) and one from Sweden (Signe Glantz).
Judkins said he’s most pleased with his overall team depth.
“There were two games last year where I only had six players,” he said. “We’re really deep this year and that will make it a lot better.”
The Cougars have a Blue and White Scrimmage on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at the Marriott Center and open exhibition play by hosting Dixie State on Nov. 6.