Aug. 13, 1999

NORMAN, Okla. -- On Jan. 12, 1999, a new era began in OU women's soccer. That was the day former Vanderbilt assistant coach Randy Evans was named head coach of the Oklahoma Sooners. He took over a program that played its first season just four years ago, and that had just finished its most successful campaign by posting an 8-9 record. Evans' task of continuing the development of OU's soccer program might seem like a daunting task, but it is exactly what Evans was in search of.

"I was actually offered jobs before and didn't take them because I was being selective on the type of school that I would leave Vanderbilt to go to," said the new Sooner head coach. "Part of the criteria was that it had to be a big state school. I also wanted to be part of a large conference. Being a part of the Southeastern Conference gives you a feel of what competing in big conferences is like, and you don't want to be in anything but that. I also like the idea of building a program."

He found that school and more when he came to Norman.

"I visited because it met my criteria," said Evans. "Once I got here I was impressed with the athletic department's commitment to the success of the team and the area. This is a very strong area for soccer. So we have all of the elements to be successful."

The next step in Evans' OU coaching career was meeting the players. The first word that came to his mind when he saw the players was "small."

"My first impression was that we are small for a top Division-I team," said Evans. "This team has also played a totally different style than what I am accustomed to playing. They played much more of a direct style, while I like to play an indirect, possession-oriented game. We pretty much had to start all over last spring, but we had a great spring. The girls worked hard and were really enthusiastic. They made a tremendous amount of improvement."

Coach Evans Photo
Coach Evans' squad will play a possession style of soccer this season.

Coach Evans admits his team is not short on talent, toughness or work ethic. He believes these elements will comprise the strength of a squad that may lack in the area of athleticism.

"There is a lot of talent on this team," said Evans. "What we are lacking in comparison to the top-20 teams is a little size and athleticism. As far as work rate, attitude and ability, we are not that far off."

Evans says he really likes the team's defensive prospects but has changed things a bit on offense. The Sooners will play more of a possession style of soccer than a direct style.

"I like our team to have the ball and for the other team to chase us," said Evans. "To be honest, it is more fun to play that way and it is more entertaining for the fans. It is also more conducive to player development. If you want to dictate the pace of the play, then you have to possess the ball."

The Sooners have a tough road ahead of them that includes non-conference road games against Alabama, San Diego and San Diego State, all of which were highly ranked last season.

"The schedule is going to be hard," said the Sooner head coach. "Our first eight games are on the road against really good teams. The regular season non-conference games are not my priority. I am using those games to get ready for Big 12 action. We should either be really beaten up or primed for Big 12 play."

Forwards

The Sooners have 15 letterwinners returning to lead a team that finished 8-9 overall and 2-7 (10th place) in the conference last season. OU returns 1998's leading scorer in Jonette Coquat, a sophomore from Carrollton, Texas. She will lead a group of young and inexperienced forwards. She tallied 19 points last year with the help of a team-high seven goals (three game-winners), on a team-high 47 shots and 28 shots on goal.

"She is a very strong and powerful target forward," said coach Evans. "She definitely has a nose for the goal."

Sophomore Amber Givens also returns at the forward position after playing in all but one game last season. Coach Evans calls her the "most tactically-minded player on the team." She scored her lone goal last year in her first game as a Sooner (a 6-2 win at Tulsa).

Returning this year from injuries will be Heather Morrison, Megan Olsen and Shannon Wing. Morrison, who missed the final seven games last season with a stress fracture in her back, ranked second on the squad with 18 points (6 goals and 6 assists). She is the school record holder for goals (2) and points (5) in a game, goals (8) and assists (6) in a season and goals (14), assists (8) and points (36) in a career.

"I haven't seen Heather play yet," said Evans. "She could be one of our top players, if not our best player."

Olsen competed in five games (started three) and recorded a goal, an assist and five shots on goal before tearing her anterior cruciate ligament against Memphis. Wing broke the fibula in her left leg in the second game of the year, forcing her into a redshirt season.

"They were both injured last year," said Evans. "I haven't even gotten to see Megan Olsen play. She didn't play in the spring because of the injury, but she could be a dominant player for us. Shannon was able to play in the spring. She wasn't quite 100 percent, so hopefully we will see more from her."

The Sooners were also excited about forward Krissy Dawson, a transfer from Arizona State, but the sophomore suffered a season-ending injury while playing in a summer game.

"That is one of the more disappointing things that's happened," said Evans. "She is a very good forward and a proven goal scorer at the college level. I was expecting her to come in and make an immediate impact."

Midfielders

The Sooners return more players at midfield than any other position. Junior Mary Morse, OU's defensive leader the past two seasons, may also be moved to the midfield, providing more depth and experience to that area of the field.

"Mary has been the sweeper the last two years," said Evans. "Because of her ability to run the team we may try to move her to midfield if Emily Land, a freshman from Dallas, can step in and do a good job at sweeper."

The most experienced player for OU this season will be senior Natalie Hixson. She is the only three-time letterwinner on the team and has played a record total of 45 games for OU. Coach Evans calls Hixson a "very technical and tactical player with a lot of experience."

More experience comes from juniors Jessica Volcansek and Bridgette Smith. Volcansek started 15 games last season recorded five shots on goal and a pair of assists last season, while Smith started 14 games and had two goals and one assist.

"Jessica and Bridgette are both coming into this season a little beat up," said Evans. "Hopefully Jessica can be 100 percent by the time the season starts. She is a leader and is versatile enough to play anywhere on the field. Bridgette has a little bit of nerve damage in her foot, but we still expect her to make a huge contribution in the starting lineup."

Coach Evans expects big things from freshmen Heather Martinelli and Sarah Ellington. Martinelli, who hails from Norman, redshirted after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament prior to last season. Ellington joined the team in the spring but didn't practice. She is expected to make instant contributions.

"Heather should be ready this fall to make an immediate impact at the midfield position," said Evans. "Sarah is probably the fastest player on the team. She didn't play in the spring because she didn't want to use up a year of eligibility."

Sophomores Melanie Brosnahan, Kate Rusley and Brianne Strothers all return with a year under their belt and are looking to improve upon last season. Brosnahan missed the first 10 games last year after tearing her anterior cruciate ligament. She played in six games, recording one shot and one assist. Rusley started six contests and saw action in nine games a year ago. She registered six shots on goal, one goal and one assist after missing the first eight games of the season while recovering from a torn ACL. Strothers was one of only five Sooners to play in all 17 games (started in four) and recorded three goals and one assist.

"Melanie has great touch and is a great tactical player," noted Evans. "She has the ability to combine real well with teammates on the attack. Kate has the strength that this team is missing. Her size and aggressiveness will help her contribute to the team. Brianne is very technically skilled. The possession style that we will be playing should cater to her abilities."

Richmond Photo
Ashlee Richmond will be the lone senior defender on the Sooner squad.

Three incoming freshmen and a sophomore transfer will look to contribute at the midfield position. Jennifer Enos, from Arlington, Texas, comes to Norman after scoring 10 goals and recording 15 assists her senior year at Lamar High School. Katie Carnahan, from Norman, helped lead Norman North to a state runner-up finish last year as a defender. Kacy Neely, from Farmington, N.M., scored 15 goals and notched 38 assists during her career at Farmington High School. Teri Marcum transferred from Oklahoma State after playing her freshman year as a defender. She was not released by the Cowgirls and must sit out the 1999 season.

Defenders

A young but talented group of players will headline the defense this season. The Sooners' only senior defender will be Ashlee Richmond, who was moved from forward. She played in all 17 games last season (started 14) and was the team's third-leading scorer with 16 points.

"We moved Ashlee to the back and she did a great job in the spring. The move paid off immediately," said Evans. "She is very aggressive and incredibly strong."

Secrest Photo
Christen Secrest played extremely well as a freshman last season, starting 15 games.

Also returning will be sophomore Christen Secrest, who started in 15 of the 16 games in which she played.

"Christen was probably the team's best defender last year," said Evans. "She is very talented defensively. She could possibly be the best athlete on the team."

Coach Evans is also expecting a lot from freshmen Brittany Davis, Land and Jamie Farmer. Davis, from Norman, is expected to make an immediate impact after being part of two state champion and a runner-up team at Norman High School. Land, from Dallas, is expected to relieve Morse from her sweeper position duties. Farmer, also a Dallas product, registered 11 goals and 12 assists her junior and senior years at Lake Highlands High School.

"I expect Brittany to play a lot," said Evans. "If Emily can step in and do a good job at sweeper, we will move Mary to midfield."

Goalkeepers

OU returns its top two goalkeepers from last year in juniors Josie Miller and Ayn Toppin. Freshman Jana Cunningham will also enter the mix from Memorial High School in Tulsa. Miller and Toppin split time last year starting seven and 10 games, respectively. Miller made 42 saves and ended the season with a .737 save percentage. She also set single-season records with a 1.76 goals-against average and 2.5 shutouts. Toppin recorded a .641 save percentage and a 2.67 goal-against average.

"Both Ayn and Josie performed well in the spring," said Evans. "There is really no clear-cut favorite, but Josie has foot skills that are conducive to the style that we will be playing."

Cunningham was an all-conference (1997), all-district ('98) and All-State ('99) performer in high school.

"Jana has great size and great athleticism," said Evans. "She is not very technical right now, but she has tremendous potential."

It wasn't long after the spring season had ended before Evans was ready to start the real season.

"I am ready to begin the building process," said the OU head coach. "I have no doubt that we are going to develop into a strong program. First, we want to be regionally ranked and then become a nationally ranked program in the years to come. I am ready to get that started."

A lot of question marks exist entering the 1999 campaign, but Evans has no problems defining his expectations.

"To get better," he said. "Our opponents are irrelevant. This season is all about us getting better. Each time we go out we need to be better. If it is good enough to beat the opponent that we are playing, then that is positive. If it is not, then we need to concentrate on getting better. The concentration is going to be more on our own team than any body that we are playing."