Aug. 15, 2007
NORMAN, Okla. -- The Oklahoma soccer team reported to practice this week in preparation for the 2007 season, which begins on Aug. 31 at home against Alabama A&M. The Sooners will also host Oral Roberts that weekend on Sept 2.
Prior to the season opener, SoonerSports.com will bring fans a preview of 2007, beginning with the first installment below. Stay tuned on Friday as we take a closer look at the OU defense and goalkeepers.
2007 PREVIEW - Part I
When discussing the 2007 season, head coach Randy Evans points to depth and chemistry as the two keys to having a successful year. Even with a roster highlighted by seven seniors with 233 combined starts and 98 career points, the coaching staff believes each roster spot is open for competition.
The 2007 Sooners should bring plenty of knowledge and leadership to the field with several returning letterwinners, including eight starters from 2006 and four players with three years of starting experience.
In addition, the 2007 recruiting class is perhaps the most talented group to arrive in Norman. If the newcomers make quick adjustments to the college game and mesh with the veterans, the coaching staff believes OU is poised to return to the form it displayed in 2005 when it set program records for wins (13), goals scored (37), assists (40) and points (114).
"The overall talent of this team is unbelievable and it gives us a tremendous opportunity to have a breakout season" said Evans. "With the experience carrying over from the last three years and the most talented group of newcomers we have ever recruited, we have the potential to feature another strong defense and a very potent offensive attack."
The Sooners lost half of their scoring power from 2006 with the graduation of Kady Kelly and Savannah Scott, but returning for OU in 2007 is seniors Shana All (11 points), Audri Habibi (11 points), Lauren Harris (six points) and Tenesha Duncan (four points) and sophomore Ashley Farrand (three points).
The incoming class mentioned above features 13 newcomers, led by Whitney Palmer and Lauren Alkek, who can make an immediate impact on offense with their scoring ability. Both Palmer and Alkek were selected in July to the 18-member U.S. National Select Team and can give OU explosiveness at the forward position that was last seen when Logan Womack set program records in every offensive category during her four-year career (2000-2003).
Complimenting the offense will be a defense returning all but one starter from 2006 in Andrea Hurley. Defense has always been one of OU soccer's biggest strengths throughout the years and that trend is expected to continue in 2007.
Last season, OU held its opponents to one goal or less in 11 games, including seven shutouts. Fans can expect to see more stellar play from the defense with Jennifer Nichols returning for her fourth year of guarding the Sooners' net. The goalkeeper will be surrounded by depth on the back line with a mixture of experience and incoming talent.
Despite several first time opponents on this year's schedule, including some programs not thought of as being soccer powers, Evans and company have put together another one of the nation's toughest non-conference schedules.
"Soccer fans across the country will appreciate the schedule we have set up," added Evans. "We really do not have an off day and face a non-conference schedule that is just as tough as our Big 12 slate."
After the Sooners open the season against Alabama A&M on Aug. 31, a team that led the nation with a 4.11 goals scored per game average in 2006, Oral Roberts comes to Norman before a four-game road stand begins across the country.
"The overall talent of this team is unbelievable and it gives us a tremendous opportunity to have a breakout season" - Head Coach Randy Evans
OU faces two NCAA Tournament teams from 2006 on that first road trip in William and Mary and Cal State Fullerton. In addition, OU faces challenges against a Virginia Commonwealth team that participated in the 2005 NCAA postseason and a Long Beach State team that could push for a postseason bid this season.
"In order to be successful in the Big 12, you have to be successful on the road," said Evans. "Each of the four teams on that road trip will be fighting for NCAA bids come November and we believe that the level of competition and the demands of those trips will prepare us for conference action."
The Sooners open the Big 12 portion of the schedule on the road against Nebraska on Sept. 28. Following another away game at Iowa State on Sept. 30, OU returns home to host Baylor (Oct. 4) and Texas A&M (Oct. 7).
In addition to hosting the Bears and Aggies, Oklahoma will entertain Texas Tech (Oct. 19), Colorado (Oct. 26) and Texas (Oct. 28) in Big 12 play at the OU Soccer Complex. The three home games at the end of October are part of the Sooners' longest home stand of the season, which also features the final non-conference game of 2007 against Butler (Oct. 21).
The Sooners conclude conference play on the road at Missouri (Oct. 12), Kansas (Oct. 14) and Oklahoma State (Nov. 1).
"We have always had a good record at home in Big 12 play but lacked that level of success on the road," added Evans. "In order to be an upper echelon team in the conference, you have to get some results away from home. We really need to challenge ourselves early in the season."
The top eight teams from the Big 12 Conference will participate in the 2007 Big 12 Championship, hosted in San Antonio, Texas at Blossom Stadium on Nov. 7, 9 and 11. The winner of the tournament, along with at-large bids, will then advance to the 64-team NCAA Tournament, held on campus sites, with this year's championship hosted by Texas A&M in College Station.