Aug. 10, 2011
NORMAN, Okla. - The 2011 Sooner soccer team reported to campus last week and already faces its first test this Saturday at 7 p.m. in an exhibition game at Arkansas.
The season opener is slated for Friday, Aug. 19 at 7 p.m. against the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The Sooners will play five of their first six games at home, including a matchup with Tennessee on Aug. 21 at 1 p.m.
In preparation for the 2011 season, SoonerSports.com brings fans a two-part preview to breakdown this year's squad. Below is an overall look at the team. Stay tuned on Thursday for a more detailed look of the Sooners at each position and don't forget to check out the 2011 OU soccer media guide, which features links to player bio pages on SoonerSports.com that will be updated throughtout the season with stats and notes.
HUNGRY FOR MORE
Sooners look to build off successful 2010 campaign
The Oklahoma Sooners were picked to finish 10th in the Big 12 Conference in 2010 and proceeded to post the league's third-best record and the program's first appearance in the title game of the Big 12 Championship. Despite losing that heartbreaker in penalty kicks to Oklahoma State, the Sooners gained valuable postseason experience from the championship and the NCAA Portland Regional. In 2011, the Sooners are hungry for more postseason success.
"One of the things that will drive the team this year lies in the fact that we let a Big 12 Championship slip away in the last 10 minutes of regulation," said OU Head Coach Nicole Nelson, the 2010 Co-Big 12 Head Coach of the Year. "When you end a championship game in a tie, it keeps you coming back for more. The mentality of our program is that we want to be better every day. So although we took significant strides forward in 2010, our expectation is always to make history and to be better than the year before."
On paper, OU has a tall task to replace the program's all-time leader scorer in Whitney Palmer, and two other four-year starters in Lauren Alkek and Tiana Dickson. However, after a successful spring season, the coaching staff is confident in the eight starters returning, along with several other key members off last year's team, and their ability to gel with the six newcomers.
"Overall, the group has developed a significant amount this spring," said Nelson. "I feel like we finished the spring in a better place then we have in past years, which is promising. "
The voids left by the 2010 senior class are filled with a highly touted four-member freshmen class, featuring Emily Bowman, Hannah Gordon, Abby Hodgen and Kelly Price. In addition, OU added transfers Alison Farrell (Oklahoma State) and Tori Rocke (Northern Arizona).
"The group adds the necessary depth in every position and will increase the competitiveness of our environment moving forward," added Nelson. "Most importantly they represent the type of student athletes we believe are crucial for building a championship program. They are competitive and determined to make OU soccer successful on a national scale."
The returners off the 2011 squad are highlighted by five players with national team experience with juniors Dria Hampton and Caitlin Mooney and sophomores Zoe Dickson and Carrie Whigham from the United States, and junior Katharine Nutman from England.
Hampton and Mooney will look to lead the offense and create havoc in the opposition's defensive third. Mooney, a member of the All-Big 12 Newcomer team in 2010, was second on the team with seven goals and 17 points behind Palmer. Hampton led OU with five assists for the second straight year and displayed her offensive versatility by also tallying five goals.
"Caitlin and Dria's on the field chemistry adds a unique sophistication to our attack," said Nelson. "This combination, if executed well, is hard for an opponent to defend. "
That offensive combination, along with a mix of experienced veterans and talented youngsters, has OU primed to top last season's 37 goals scored, which tied the program record. In addition to Mooney and Hampton, OU also returns a quartet of players that scored two or more goals last season in Michelle Alexander (2), Annalisa Hall (3), Samantha Howell (3) and Kelsey Kraft (4).
While the offense enjoyed the limelight of the 2010 campaign, the Sooners' strong defense was again key to the success of last season' 12 wins. If the team looks to take the next step in winning a Big 12 Championship and making their first back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances, it will have to rely on its back line.
The strength of that defense rests in the net as it not only returns junior Kelsey Devonshire, who has started every game since her arrival on campus, but senior Lisa Jett, who started 12 games in 2008. In addition, OU has Rocke in goal as she left NAU after finishing 2010 as the program's all-time leader in shutouts with 21.
"I think this is the most depth we've had at the goalkeeper position since I started coaching OU," said Nelson. "We will look to that experience to help lead a relatively young, but very talented, back line. We saw the most growth with our defenders during the spring and expect that to carry over into the fall."
To obtain their championship goals, the Sooners will battle through a 19-game slate that includes 10 contests at one of the premier collegiate soccer facilities in the nation, John Crain Field at the OU Soccer Complex. The Sooners will play one exhibition game on Aug. 13 at Arkansas before the season kicks off at home on Aug. 19 against Alabama Birmingham.
"At this time last year, I said I believed the team was capable of winning a Big 12 Championship," said Nelson. "With that experience behind us, I think this program can take the next step and bring home a championship for Sooner soccer. This team may have the best chemistry that I've ever coached."
Overall, OU plays seven games against six teams that were in the 2010 NCAA tournament.
"The 2011 schedule is exciting," said Nelson. "It features an aggressive approach to our non-conference segment that, if we handle well, will give us the opportunity to achieve our postseason goals. The 2011 team has a good balance, concerning talent and experience, so I expect them to embrace the season with determination and excitement."