Aug. 7, 2001

So now what?

That is the question one might ask when thinking about the Oklahoma women's soccer program.

The Sooners are coming off their best season in the school's five-year history, finishing with a 10-9-1 mark and qualifying for the Big 12 Tournament for the first time ever.

Heading into this campaign, Oklahoma returns 19 letterwinners and nine starters to a team whose next mission might be a trip to the NCAA Playoffs.

OU Head Coach Randy Evans, who begins his third year as the Sooner mentor, is excited about the possibilities of this season and has confidence in his team's ability to produce.

"We're still young enough that our goal is to keep improving our level of play," said Evans, who was named the 2000 Big 12 Coach of the Year. "However, as much as we accomplished last season, we expect even more this year."

Evans is also fully aware of what it takes to compete in a conference such as the Big 12.

"The conference is so competitive that a prerequisite each team must have is a certain amount of physical ability and, for us, having speed at every position on the field is a huge help. That allowed us to pull off a couple of huge upsets last season (Nebraska, Texas twice) so it was important.

"As our athletes mature into better soccer players, you're going to see us improve even more."

Goalkeeper

A strength last year, the goalkeeper position could be even stronger this season. OU returns junior Jana Cunningham, who set numerous Sooner records last year, and brings in Catherine Wade, a highly rated 6-0 freshman from Midland, Texas.

"Jana was tremendous for us last year," Evans said of the Tulsa native. "One of the things Jana does is not give anything away. She was the model of consistency for us."

Cunningham set OU single-season records in goals-against average (1.02), shutouts (6.5) and saves (124). She was also named to Soccer America's National Team of the Week after her performance against Nebraska with a school-record-tying 16 saves.

However, as good as Cunningham was for Oklahoma last season, she might have a little competition when the preseason begins.

Evans has high hopes for Wade, who has the potential to contribute immediately for OU. "She has the physical ability to compete at the level beyond college. However, she's still relatively raw, and she hasn't had a lot of professional goalkeeping training.

"She could battle for a starting spot right away or she could take a year or two to mature into the position. It's totally up to her."

Defender

A considerable amount of talent returns to the defensive line, but there is one key loss in Bridgette Smith. Last year, the senior from Grapevine, Texas, played extremely well down the stretch and earned a spot on the Big 12 All-Tournament team.

"Bridgette had an outstanding year playing sweeper and was undoubtedly the anchor of our defense," said Evans.


sophomore Jessica Talton

Despite the loss of Smith, Evans isn't worried about the void. "We have a lot of confidence in the players coming back."

Taking Smith's spot on the field should be junior Emily Land. The Dallas, Texas, native saw ample playing time her freshman year but injuries reduced her to just two starts in 2000.

"Injuries slowed Emily last year, but now she is back to 100 percent and should be ready to step into the sweeper position."

Evans has another freshman coming in with starting possibilities in Kirstin Karfonta. "Kirstin definitely has the physical ability to play sweeper in the Big 12," said Evans of the defender from Edmond. "The two of them should compete for that position."

Experience comes with the return of senior Jessica Volcansek. The three-year starter from Plano, Texas, has played numerous positions during her career at OU including outside back last year.

"We're looking for Jessica to be versatile and play any of the defensive positions. We also want her to step up and shoulder some of the leadership role," Evans said about one of last year's tri-captains.

Another key returner to the defense is Brittany Davis. The Norman native played right back last year and started every game. "Brittany had an outstanding season in 2000 and we think she still has plenty of room to grow," said Evans.

A healthy return from senior Christen Secrest, OU's best player and lone All-Big 12 selection in 1999, is expected. Secrest was limited to 11 games last year.

"Like Emily, Christen was slowed due to injury, but we expect her to be 100 percent as well," said Evans of the Norman product.

A couple of players who could figure prominently in Oklahoma's plans include junior Jamie Farmer and freshman Christi Basgall. Farmer, a Dallas, Texas, native, has seen action in each of her first two seasons while Basgall, from Oklahoma City, is another freshman who could make an impact.

"Jamie is one of the team's most skillful players and Christi should be able to compete for playing time," said Evans.

Midfield

Like the defense, the Sooners return some quality players but lose one key member. Mary Morse, a senior last year from Plano, Texas, started every game during her career at OU and left as team's all-time leader in games and games started (71 each).

"Mary was a very smart player on the field but what we're going to miss most from her is her off-the-field leadership. That's one of the things this year's team is going to have to find," said Evans.

Enough players return to make the midfield a possible strength.


junior Heather Martinelli

"Outside midfield could be dangerous with return of Jessica Talton," said Evans. Talton, a native of Tulsa, and one of the fastest players in the conference, started every game for OU last year. "Jessica, as only a sophomore, showed tremendous potential out wide and the experience she gained in her first year on the team was evident down the stretch."

Two players returning who will share time between the forward and midfield positions are senior Megan Olsen and junior Heather Martinelli.

A Norman product, Martinelli finished tied for second on the team in assists (three) and fourth in points (nine) while playing in every game.

"Heather had a terrific spring and it looks like she'll be able to create a lot of scoring chances for us."

Olsen, a senior from Federal Way, Wash., returns for her final season after starting every game last year.

"Megan is another player whose versatility allows us to play her at either forward or midfield," said Evans.

Another senior returns in Brianne Strothers. A native of Auburn, Wash., Strothers played a key role in a backup position after starting most of the 1999 season.

"Brianne is a solid player who provides great depth for this team," said Evans, "and she has the ability to assume a starting role again."

Jen Enos, a junior from Arlington, Texas, is coming off a season in which she managed four points after switching to the center of the field.

"Jen was able to make a smooth transition to center mid and had a great spring season."

Also back in center midfield is Heidi Martinson. The sophomore from Tulsa played in every game last year and scored three points.

"Heidi is recovering from a knee injury but should be back to full strength come preseason," said Evans.

Sophomore Ashley Lacey, a Yukon, product, played in all but one game last year and is another second-year player who gained valuable experience last season.

"Ashley made considerable progress in the spring and we see her contributing to the team as well," said Evans.

Two sophomore transfers from Tulsa give OU more depth and could make for some interestng battles in preseason: Abby Mann from Oklahoma State and Samantha Faulkner from Navy.

Forward

What has seemed to be a weak link for past OU soccer teams could finally turn into a strength.

"The forward position is probably the deepest on the team," said Evans.

OU welcomes back senior Jonette Coquat for her final season. The Carrollton, Texas, product is Oklahoma's all-time leader in goals (20), assists (13) and points (53). Coquat set the single-season mark for points last season with 20 and tallied five game-winning goals.

"We're expecting some great things from Jonette again this year," said Evans.

Shannon Wing, a junior from Broken Arrow started every game for the second consecutive year while increasing her offensive total in every category. She finished 2000 as the team's third-leading goal scorer with five.

"Although a lot of players had great spring seasons, Shannon probably had the best. We're expecting some outstanding play from her again this year."

OU's lone All-Big 12 selection from 2000 returns in Logan Womack. The sophomore from Norman, earned All-Big 12 second-team and all-conference newcomer honors.

With plenty of speed to burn, Womack tied Coquat for most goals on the team with seven. Three of those goals were game-winners.

"If she's ready to go, she could have quite in impact on the conference schools," said Evans of his sophomore scoring specialist.

Junior Krissy Dawson, a smart player with intangibles, appears to be over injuries that affected her first two seasons at OU.

"Tactically, Krissy is a brilliant player. The only thing is keeping her injury free," Evans said of the Peoria, Ariz., native.

One Sooner looking to begin her collegiate career is redshirt freshman Erin Young. The Norman product sat out last season due to injury.

"Erin can play just about any position for us," said Evans. "Not only that, she has the ability to earn a starting role in numerous spots on the field. Her talent and versatility could be a key for us this year."