Oct. 10, 2002

Norman, Okla. - The journey to the 2003 NCAA Final Four begins Saturday, Oct. 12 at 6 a.m. for the Oklahoma women's basketball team as the Sooners start preseason practice inside the Lloyd Noble Center. OU looks to add to its three straight Big 12 Conference regular season titles and defend its Big 12 Tournament crown.

Oklahoma took part in its first ever NCAA Final Four and advanced to the national championship game last season. OU also produced a school best 32-4 record and earned its highest national ranking ever of No. 2 in both the USA Today/ESPN Coaches and Associated Press polls.

In addition, the Sooners have appeared in three consecutive NCAA Sweet 16s and captured a regional championship under Head Coach Sherri Coale's guidance.

Coale returns six letterwinners, including senior All-America candidate Caton Hill and sophomore standout Dionnah Jackson. Hill and Jackson played in all 36 games a year ago, while Hill has appeared among the starting lineup for the past three seasons. The Oklahoma native averaged 12.6 points and 6.9 rebounds and was named to the 2002 NCAA All-West Region team for the second consecutive year. Jackson, a native of St. Louis, Mo., tossed in 7.3 points and averaged 4.9 rebounds per game as a freshman. She was also named to the All-Big 12 Tournament team after shooting 66.7 percent from the field (16-for-24) and averaging 12.0 points and 5.7 boards in the three game span. Also returning from the 2002 NCAA runner-up team are seniors Kate Scott and Stephanie Simon, plus junior Stephanie Luce and sophomore Lauren Shoush.

Even though they didn't play in a single game a year ago, senior Theresa Schuknecht and redshirt-freshman Antoinette Wadsworth are set to contribute immediately to this year's team. Schuknecht missed the 2002 season due to NCAA transfer rules, while Wadsworth was sidelined with an ACL injury.

Coale added one of the top recruiting classes in the nation to the Sooner program during the offseason. Oklahoma's incoming class includes five freshmen and one junior college transfer. This year's class ranked seventh in the nation according to the All-Star Girls Report in July. Junior Maria Villarroel joins the Sooners after a year at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College. Prior to that stop she spent a season at Independence Junior College (Kan.). Hitting the collegiate hardwood for the first time are freshmen Chelsi Welch (Plainview, Texas), Coale's first high school All-American, Beky Preston (Albuquerque, N.M.), Oklahoma natives Erin Higgins (Oklahoma City) and Laura Andrews (Washington) plus Casey Walker (Houston, Texas). Walker will miss the 2002-03 season due to an ACL injury suffered during a summer all-star game.

The Sooners will host daily practices from 12:30 to 3:30 at the Lloyd Noble Center. Oklahoma plays its first exhibition game on Nov. 5 against Oklahoma Christian at 7 p.m. before tipping off the 2002-03 season against Tennessee at the State Farm Tip-Off Classic in Knoxville, Tenn. OU's first home game is slated for Nov. 26 against Sam Houston State at 7 p.m.