Recently the Cougars had their media day and the fans had their first chance to once again get excited for their team. The Cougars are coming off a season where they made a run in the West Coast Conference Tournament and won the tournament title, moving on to the NCAA Tournament. Although the team lost some key players to graduation, they have retooled and are ready to make another run.
Lost from the team last year due to graduation were key players Morgan Bailey, Ashley Garfield, and Xojian Harry. Although Garfield was injured for much of the year, her leadership on the team will still be missed. Regardless of the leadership lost, the Cougars will still need to find a way to replace over 13 rebounds and close to 30 points per game. This won't be an easy task, but Coach Jeff Judkins feels that he has the players to do it. This year provides a mix of returners and newcomers that should continue to compete in the West Coast Conference, and could make another run in the NCAA Tournament. So what should we expect and look for this year? If the coaches in the conference are correct, expect the Cougars to come in at least second in the league and have a few players on the WCC All-Conference team.
With three returning starters and a slew of experienced players, the Cougars have a shot at a special season. They will be led by their guards but don't count out the post players as they will have a say in how well the team plays. Before the season starts on November 13th, let's take a look at who will make a difference for the Cougars.
Lexi Eaton Rydalch: Eaton Rydalch could end the season as the best player in the league when all is said and done. The Cougars will rely on her heavily to continue her magic on the court, as she has the last couple of years. Not only has she increased her scoring each year, but she finished last year averaging over 20 points, six rebounds, and almost three assists per game. Last year alone she scored at least 25 points in a game in 10 different games. She should be one of the on-court and off-court leaders for this team.
Kylie Maeda: Along with Eaton Rydalch, Maeda is also a returning starter that should pick up some of the leadership responsibilities for the team. As the floor general she will need to continue to distribute the ball to the scorers, but may also need to score a bit more. Although she averaged over six points a game, if the Cougars could get her into double-digit scoring the Cougars could really put some pressure on their opponents if she continues to average over four assists per game.
Makenzi Morrison Pulsipher: Morrison Pulsipher came on strong last year and was a do it all player for the Cougars. She brings both offense and defense to the table as she is a legitimate scoring threat, a fantastic three point shooter, and led the team in steals. Her 41% shooting from behind the arc provides a threat that will draw opposing players out to defender her, opening the middle up for the post players to cause some damage. No opposing team is safe from her quick hands as she recorded 49 steals last year.
Others to keep an eye on: Watch for more playing time for Sophomore Cassie Broadhead and junior Kristine Fuller Nielson as they work with another year under their belts.
Kalani Purcell: Purcell is a JC transfer from Hutchinson Community College and Coach Judkins is confident that she is the best JC transfer in the nation. As a sophomore she averaged almost 19 points, 12 rebounds, five blocks , four assists, and more than one block per game. Given the talent around her she will be able to relax and do what is asked of her without having to feel like she has to do it all. Her talent will go a long way towards filling the holes left by the departing seniors, and should fit in really well on the team.
Alohi Robins-Hardy: Robins-Hardy came onto the scene strong after Garfield went down with an injury last year and looks to have an even more prominent role this year. Now that she has a year under her belt she will have a better feeling for what is needed from her.
Micalee Orton: As a senior Orton will play some valuable minutes that will be needed by the Cougars. She knows the system, and knows what it takes to win. She has been with the Cougars during NCAA Tournament runs as well as a conference championship. Her leadership and experience will be valuable to the younger players.
Young Players: The Cougars have five freshman that will need to play valuable minutes for the Cougars. The only one on the roster that may not see playing time is Haley Bodnar as she must sit out after transferring from Purdue. Along with the newcomers, the Cougars also welcome back Brooke Romney who played with the Cougars in 2012 but then left for an LDS mission. Although she only played in 10 games her freshman year, she knows the system and will be valuable as she works her way back into the lineup this year.
The Cougars are stacked with talent this year, and will need every last bit of it. After the exhibition season, the Cougars will play only three of their first 11 games at home. With Oklahoma, Colorado State, Texas A&M, and Utah on the schedule the Cougars will need to gel quickly in order to prepare for conference play. If they can weather the storm and play well in conference, another tournament run could be in the cards for the Lady Cougars.
Don't miss their opening game against Utah Valley University on November 13th at 3pm MT in the Marriott Center.