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Norman, Okla. - The Oklahoma soccer program continues to gain momentum
entering its seventh season as a varsity sport. Head coach Randy
Evans opens his fourth year in Norman with nine returning starters, an ambitious
schedule and heightened expectations.
"We've got some lofty goals for this team," said Evans. "Overall, this is an exciting year. Sometimes it seems like we say that every year, but this is far and away the most anticipation I've had for a season."
The Sooners set a school record with 11 wins and earned the program's first-ever victories over Big 12 rivals Missouri, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State last year. Oklahoma shut out seven visiting opponents en route to a dominating 8-1-1 home record at John Crain Field.
The Sooners qualified for the conference tournament for the second consecutive year and battled eventual Big 12 tournament champion Texas A&M in overtime before falling 1-0.
First-team All-Big 12 forward Logan Womack returns to key the attack for the Sooners after blitzing opponents for a school-record 13 goals and 27 points in 2001.
"She's been our leading goal-scorer for the last two years and will probably become the program's all-time leading goal-scorer this season," says Evans. "Logan's very dynamic and is one of the top forwards in the Big 12."
Senior Krissy Dawson brings leadership, experience and a knack for making clutch plays to OU's front line. Her late-season heroics last season included scoring the game-winner in overtime against rival Oklahoma State -- OU's first-ever win in the series. The victory propelled OU to its second consecutive Big 12 tournament berth.
"Dawson is the brains behind the attack," says Evans. "She's a distributor, she's the one who directs traffic and she's going to be key. She had a tremendous spring. She started to add goals to all of her assists and she'll be a dangerous combination for us."
Shannon Wing looks to start every game for her fourth consecutive season (57 games) in 2002. The senior ended last season tied with Krissy Dawson for the team lead in assists (5).
"Shannon Wing is quick on the ball, crafty and has one of the sharpest turns I've ever seen," says Evans. "She's a leader. We have tremendous leadership on this team and that should make a big difference."
Evans will enjoy considerable depth on his front line this fall with Michelle Enos, Ashley Lacey, Heidi Kohlbacher and Becky Nelson competing for playing time.
"We're really excited about the depth of this team," says Evans. "We go well beyond 11 starters. The last couple of years we've had key injuries that have really hurt us at the end of the year. Some of those injuries really stopped our momentum in its tracks. This year, we're more capable of withstanding injuries."
OU will rely on a trio of returning letterwinners and a bevy of freshmen to shore up its midfield for the 2002 season. Senior Heather Martinelli and juniors Jessica Talton and Heidi Martinson bring a wealth of experience to the field with a combined 91 career starts.
Martinelli, a starter for the past three seasons, ranks fourth all-time on the team in goals (8) and fifth in points (20).
"Heather Martinelli had a good year last season but suffered through some injuries," says Evans. "She had surgery in the offseason. If she can return to 100 percent, she, without a doubt, will be on the field."
Talton started 17 games and is one of the fastest players on the team.
"Talton had a tremendous sophomore year," says Evans. "We expect her to have an even better season this fall."
Heidi Martinson registered 11 shots with two goals and two assists while playing in 14 games last year at center midfield.
"Martinson started at center midfield for us and had a tremendous spring," says Evans. "She was one of the reasons our spring was so successful. She works hard, can run all day and has great intensity."
After those three, six freshmen are tabbed for service in the midfield including Oklahoma Player of the Year, Lauren MacIver.
"Some freshmen should really impact the midfield," says Evans. "Most notably, Lauren MacIver, an All-American, will get her first look at center midfielder." "Christy Kenkel will get a crack at center midfield and the stopper position. She's a good skill player. She's got the knowledge and defensive presence to battle for playing time."
Coach Evans will also look to develop the talents of Kristin Vesely, Michelle Enos, Shelly Sims and Samantha Faulkner, a transfer from the U.S. Naval Academy, for service in the midfield.
"Vesely, a highly-touted recruit out of Arizona, will double as a soccer and softball player," says Evans. "She's a very talented left-side player who could make an immediate impact in the midfield or in the back. She's got tremendous left-footed service and great skills."
Defense has been the hallmark of Evans' teams the past three years. The Sooners allowed just 17 goals last season, down from 38 in 1998 -- the season prior to his arrival. Evans expects that trend to continue.
"This year, our defense should be the strongest we've ever had," says Evans. "We had a great spring, anchored by Kirstin Karfonta at sweeper with Brittany Davis on one side and Erin Young on the other side. If I had to name an MVP for the spring, I'd name the entire back line. They were tremendous. It's exciting to have them back."
Senior Brittany Davis has made 39 straight starts for the Sooners and was one of five players last season to start all 19 games.
"Brittany has proven to be one of the best defenders in the Big 12," says Evans. "We're going to miss her when she's gone."
Sophomores Kirstin Karfonta and Erin Young complete a formidable back line for the Sooner defense. Karfonta started 13 games in 2001 while Young started once but saw action in all 19 contests.
Senior Jennifer Enos will move from midfield to defense for the 2002 season after battling an ankle injury most of last year.
"We expect Jennifer to make a huge impact there," says Evans. "To have her experience and strength on the back line will make that area even stronger."
Added to that mix is a very talented group of freshmen including Jenny Jones, Shelby Hoge and Jordan Gibbs.
"Jones has the size, speed and strength to contribute right away," says Evans. "She has a 40-yard throw-in which is very dangerous and is going to help her see the field."
"Shelby Hoge, off of a very good club team, is an experienced defender who has a great chance to come in and play. Brittany Tavenner is also off a premier club team. Stephanie Castner has the size and strength to compete for playing time."
"Jordan Gibbs is one of the most dominant players I've ever seen in the air. That will help her to compete for playing time on defense."
Oklahoma also added sophomore Monica Karriker, a late transfer from the University of Tulsa, to the roster.
"We're excited that Monica is here and we don't have to play against her that first game with Tulsa," says Evans. "She's a talented player who will be on the field somewhere. We just need to take the preseason to sort it out."
Sophomore Catherine Wade emerged in 2001 to contribute one of the best goalkeeping seasons in school history. Her 0.75 goals-against average for the year ranks as a Sooner all-time best. Wade tallied five shutouts in her 13 starts, including three performances against conference schools (Colorado, Texas Tech and Iowa State). She also went a school record 393:53 without allowing a goal.
Wade saved her best performance for the final game of OU's 2001 season. She compiled a career-high 14 saves in the Sooners' 1-0 overtime loss to eventual champion Texas A&M in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament in San Antonio.
"Catherine would have received an invite to the Under-21 National Team camp if she hadn't have had shoulder surgery in the offseason," says Evans. "That recognition was largely based on her performance at the end of the year against Texas A&M. It was an unbelievable performance, one of the best I've seen in the goal. We're encouraged with her coming back and it looks like she's going to be 100 percent."
OU also returns senior Jana Cunningham who has 29 career starts. She started six games in 2001 and combined with Wade to give the Sooners a school-best 0.87 goals-against average for the season. In addition to her four shutouts, Cunningham preserved OU's 1-0 win over Southwest Missouri State with a clutch snag of a penalty kick with three minutes left in the game.
"Jana Cunningham has been solid for us and has played some huge games," says Evans. "She's been recognized as Defensive Player of the Week in the conference so we have a lot of confidence in her."
Junior Keara Jones will back up Wade and Cunningham. She stepped in for the Sooners this spring and posted shutouts against Arizona State, BYU and Wake Forest.
"Jones had a wonderful spring," says Evans. "We feel very confident in our depth at the goalkeeping position with her experience."
Oklahoma will play a daunting schedule in 2002. A trip to defending national champion Santa Clara highlights the non-conference slate which includes contests with SMU, Tulsa, Stanford and Arizona.
"We have a large freshman class coming in," says Evans. "They need to know what it's going to take to win it all. That was the thought process behind putting Santa Clara on the schedule. Our team needs to see what it takes to win at that level."
Evans believes the tough early schedule will prepare his team for the rigors of Big 12 conference play.
"It's time to start competing for a Big 12 championship," says Evans. "The conference is strong enough that if you're competing for a Big 12 championship, you're also in the running for the Final Four. It's tough to get on top in this conference but once you're on top -- you're on top in the country."
"We're expecting a breakout year. I think we'll shock a lot of people around the country who don't know us very well. I'm not sure we'll shock very many Big 12 people -- they've witnessed our development over the years."