CHICKASHA – The question on each coach’s and player’s mind is a simple one: Will we compete for a national title?
The potential is there, head coach Jimmy Hampton said. While the Drovers lost some talented players due to graduation, the women have several new players, eight of which could start immediately.
“The women have been working tactically so as we are fairly fit and ready to compete,” Hampton said. “We will find where the pieces are and grow. It will just be about getting a bit better every day.”
The Drovers must live up to high expectations, as they are ranked preseason second in the Sooner Athletic Conference and 24th nationally.
“I think the women can live up to it and possibly surprise a few folks,” Hampton said. “And I think by the end of the season could be really tough match up for folks. We still have a lot of growing to do but we have the pieces.”
Preseason rankings rely some on reputation, and the Drovers earned that by winning the SAC Tournament and finding their way to the NAIA National Tournament both for the first time in school history in 2011. They ended the season 15-6 overall and 7-4 in conference play.
The Drovers are returning two-time NAIA All-American Calli Cooper as well as starters Erin Coggan, Kelli Korleski, Megan Wilkerson and Jordyn Yates. Additionally, Hampton got word just Monday that senior Taylor Fain would be returning unexpectedly for another season.
Fain, who earned All-Conference honors all three years at USAO, had decided to forgo her senior season and graduate early. She even was admitted to graduate school but decided to spend one last season with the Drovers.
Hampton said the coaching staff is relying on the seniors to lead the way for the new underclassmen.
Some of the key newcomers who will be counted on right away are Ryah Vyse, from England, Britani Soesbee, from Edmond North, Jentry Yates, from Midlothian, Texas, and Linda Addo, from Ghana. Addo redshirted last season.
The biggest question mark on the women’s side is at keeper. Last year’s starter Addie Tipton did not return, and the coaches have filled the position with Lucy Gardner, a freshman from England. Also in the mix is Brooke Worcester, from Southmoore High School, who was originally placed on the squad as a defender. Worcester filled in for Gardner, who was sick, in a preseason game and impressed the coaching staff, Hampton said.
Hampton said the goal for the 2012 team is the same as those before and will remain the same until accomplished.
“We want to compete for a SAC title and play in the NAIA round of 32,” he said. “Every year at USAO, these are our goals. We are just hoping one day to make a run at the national title.”
The Drovers’ first test competing nationally will be at the season opener on Friday at home against No. 6 Baker College. Kick off for that game will be 3 p.m. Fall classes begin at USAO on Aug. 27.