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Provo • For the past several years, the offensive game plan for the BYU women's basketball team was pretty simple: Get the ball to Lexi Eaton Rydalch, and get out of the way.
And why not? Rydalch finished her phenomenal career as the second-leading scorer in school history with 2,535 points, and also was the all-time leading scorer in West Coast Conference basketball history, men or women. The All-American also led the Cougars to their first WCC regular-season title last season, a 16-game winning streak, a perfect 12-0 mark at home, and their 12th berth in the NCAA Tournament.
She was an all-timer, coach Jeff Judkins said.
But Rydalch is gone now, and the mantle of leadership falls on a pair of seniors who are two of the better players in program history in their own right, sharpshooter Makenzi Pulsipher and triple-double threat Kalani Purcell. Alta High product Pulsipher was BYU's second-leading scorer last year with a 12.7 average, and New Zealander Purcell was a double-double machine, averaging 12.0 points, 12.6 rebounds and 4.7 assists.
"Purcell is a player you are lucky to coach once in a lifetime," Judkins said.
Noted Pulsipher, known as Makenzi Morrison before she married BYU linebacker Adam Pulsipher: "Kalani is a monster in every aspect of the stat line."
The Cougars, who open the season on Friday night at crosstown rival Utah Valley before embarking on a killer non-conference schedule that includes the likes of Georgia, Oklahoma, St. Joseph, Utah, Washington and Oregon State, will also have to replace starting point guard Kylie Maeda.
They will do that with junior Cassie Broadhead, a better scorer than Maeda but perhaps not as secure with the ball. Senior Kristine Nielson and sophomore Jasmine Moody should round out the starting five.
"This team is looking great to me," Pulsipher said. "I have said it before: I feel like this team plays like a team. We are not a one-man team. We are not a two-man team. We are a five-man team. Everyone has the capability of doing something great for the team."
Indeed, Judkins acknowledges that BYU will be more balanced in 2016-17 and deeper inside with the addition of Purdue transfer Haley Bodnar Rydalch, a former Desert Hills High star, and freshman Jessica Chatman, daughter of former BYU great Jeff Chatman. Returnees Amanda Wayment, MaCayla Hanks and Micaelee Orton have improved, Judkins said, and he's also excited about the addition of 6-foot-3 freshman Shalae Salmon, who is from New Zealand.
"I can play a bigger lineup this year," Judkins said. "With our size and depth, we should be better defensively."
BYU is picked to finish second in the WCC behind Gonzaga, and Purcell and Pulsipher were named to the Preseason All-Conference Team.
BYU at a glance
Key additions • G Liz Eaton (Fr., 5-9), C Haley Bodnar Rydalch (So., 6-3), F Shalae Salmon (Fr., 6-3), G Brenna Chase (Fr., 5-8).
Key losses • G Lexi Rydalch (24.4 ppg.), G Kylie Maeda (3.6 apg.).
Projected starters • G Cassie Broadhead (Jr., 5-9), G Makenzi Pulsipher (Sr., 5-8), G/F Kristine Nielson (Sr., 5-11), F Kalani Purcell (Sr., 6-2), F Jasmine Moody (So., 6-2).
Bottom line • Replacing the second-leading scorer in school history, Lexi Rydalch, will be a monumental task for coach Jeff Judkins in his 16th season. BYU will overachieve if it successfully defends its WCC title and makes it back to the NCAA Tournament. It all starts with seniors Makenzi Pulsipher and Kalani Purcell, one of the best all-around players in the country.