Church News - The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

BYU women overcome challenges

Reserve forward back on the court following cancer battle
Published: Saturday, March 17, 2012

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It's been a memorable year for Brigham Young University's women's basketball. Memorable in many ways.

For one, the Cougars were playing their first season in the West Coast Conference, leaving behind their familiar foes from the Mountain West Conference.

Their maiden campaign in the new conference is being dubbed a major success after BYU qualified for the NCAA Tournament by winning the March 5 WCC tournament final in Las Vegas, Nev.

The Cougars 78-66 victory in the tournament final came over the Bulldogs of Gonzaga, the WCC's regular season champ.

Their victory ensured a selection to college basketball's storied "Big Dance." The team is slated to play DePaul University on Saturday, March 17, in Chicago, Ill, at 4:30 p.m. MT.

The first-round game against the Blue Demons will mark the Cougars' first appearance in the NCAA tournament since 2007 where they lost an opening round game to Louisville. Saturday's game will be the ninth time the women's team has played in college basketball's most prestigious tournament.

Guard Haley Steed was named the tournament MVP after scoring 17 points and collecting eight assists in the championship game.

The historic win left the talented guard in tears. "The emotions just came, I couldn't control it." she told the Deseret News. "It was an accumulation of all the hard work that this team has put in and everything we've been through as individuals and as a team hit me at once. It's all been worth it — all that we fought through. It's a special day for us."

But the challenges of the Cougars stretched beyond their new rivals on the hardwood. Last year, BYU junior forward Alexis Kaufusi was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma and was unable to finish her sophomore season. The disease forced the affable athlete to step away from the game and undergo several months of chemotherapy before she was cleared to play again.

Photo by Jonathan Hardy
Members of the BYU women's basketball team and their supporters celebrate after learning they will play DePaul University in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. The Cougars qualified for the storied tournament after winning the West Coast Conference Tournament.

"My entire life changed — it took a completely different turn than I ever expected," she said.

Despite still being under the care of her doctors, Alexis was able to return for her junior season and came off the bench to help the team in the majority of the Cougar's games. She feels about 70 percent of her abilities have returned and is quick to point out the support she has felt from her family, her team and the entire basketball community since the day of her initial diagnosis.

"The support that I have received from my teammates has been unreal ... they've been so good about making me feel like I was a part of the team," she said.

Alexis said she still loves competing and hopes the Cougars can make a deep run through the national tournament. "But everything has been put in the right perspective."

Overcoming cancer, she added, helped her appreciate the fragility of life. Her love for family, teammates and the gospel has grown over the past difficult year.

jswensen@desnews.com