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Ben Brewer, Deseret News
BYU head coach Jeff Judkins talks with his team during a timeout in the second half of the NCAA Women's Basketball game between Utah and BYU at the Jon M. Huntsman Center, Saturday, Dec. 8, 2012.
We expect to win the league, we expect to beat Gonzaga, and we want to go to the NCAA tournament. —BYU women's basketball coach Jeff Judkins

PROVO — Expectations are high for the BYU women’s basketball team as it begins final preparations for the 2013-14 season, which tips off Nov. 1.

The return of several key players, including some coming off injuries, has coach Jeff Judkins optimistic heading into the season.

“We expect to win the league, we expect to beat Gonzaga, and we want to go to the NCAA tournament,” he said. “We didn’t do a good job playing well in the tournament last year, and we have to do a better job with that. I wouldn’t be satisfied if we didn’t win our conference tournament and go to the [NCAA] tournament. That’s what we aim for.”

Several parts will need to come together for the team to accomplish its lofty goals. First and foremost is finding an ample replacement for longtime starter and unquestioned team leader Haley Steed.

Given Steed’s credentials at the point guard position, it won’t be an easy task.

“A player like Haley Steed is hard to replace, but I have several girls who have worked hard and this is their opportunity to come do it. I’m excited,” Judkins said. “I have three point guards that play differently … so it will be different, but I’m excited about it.”

The three players — junior Stephanie Rovetti, sophomore Kylie Maeda and freshman Makenzi Morrison — will be looked at to fill in at point. Judkins feels that all three bring a unique style of play that will serve the team well throughout the season.

The team hopes to receive a big boost from two-sport star Jen Hamson, who decided to forgo volleyball and focus entirely on basketball for her senior year. Players and coaches were thrilled to learn of the decision and feel it will benefit both her and the team tremendously.

“She’s in better shape than she was last year, and she moves better offensively and defensively,” Judkins said of Hamson. “Probably the biggest thing is that she understands the scheme better and what we’re trying to do. I think you’ll see a different player and more of a leader because of it.”

The 6-foot-7 Hamson has taken part in all of the team’s preparations, including practice sessions where her presence is consistently felt.

“Playing against her, it’s impossible to shoot over her,” said senior guard Kim Beeston. “She blocks us all the time in practice, and it’s annoying to us, but it’s going to be awesome to have her playing with us. It’s very hard to shoot over her and to get rebounds over her. She‘s invaluable on both ends.”

Other players looking to add depth to the frontcourt include junior Morgan Bailey and freshman Savannah Irwin.

"We're thinner than I'd like to be in our frontcourt, but I also think we'll be able to get more minutes out of Jen [Hamson]," Judkins said.

As for Beeston, she’ll help lead a promising group of returning wing players that include freshman Kristine Fuller and sophomore Lexi Eaton, whose season last year was cut short due to a knee injury.

Eaton feels fully recovered after sitting out almost a full nine months.

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“Just because [coach Judkins] cares so much he made me sit out a bit longer than I expected, so it was quite a process,” Eaton said. “I took the process as sort of a rebuilding experience — not just physically with my knee, but with everything. I feel like I’m a lot better person and learned a lot about myself from the experience.”

Overall the team feels the opportunity is there to accomplish its goals.

"I think we're really close and that we've built that over the summer," Beeston said. "We're kind of a young team, there's not a lot of experience, so it will be interesting to see how everything comes together. We have incredible talent though, so I'm excited to see how it all comes together."

Email: bgurney@desnews.com

Twitter: @BrandonCGurney