CHICKASHA – While on paper the Drovers might appear be in a season of transition — losing some irreplaceable seniors and coming into the season with some early injuries — all the ingredients for a breakout year are there.
“We are excited about where they are at now and where they hope they can develop,” head coach Jimmy Hampton said of the team. “Can we get better every day in training, every game we play? I think the answer is yes … I think their ceiling is quite high.”
The Drovers were picked to finish second to powerhouse Oklahoma City in the Sooner Athletic Conference and started off the season receiving votes nationally.
“The polls really reflect what last year’s group did, so it’s not a reflection of this year’s team,” Hampton said. “Our new players will have to earn that throughout the season and across the country.”
After a rocky start last season, the Drovers finished second in the conference and boasted an overall record of 11-7-1.
The 2012 team had six seniors, who had all spent four years in the program and brought a lot of maturity to the game. Led by All-American Calli Cooper and All-Conference athletes Taylor Fain and Jordyn Yates, the senior class left spots unfilled.
“It will be tough to replace the seniors,” Hampton said. “They were just a talented, excellent group. Of course, we will develop our young players, but it will take time.”
With an already small team of 18, the Drovers have been hit with the injury bug twice before season started. Shay Nash, a junior midfield newcomer, tore her ACL before the season began, and Vanessa Yates, a 2012 starter, is currently out with an injury.
“I think for the coaches, it’s a real fine line. Sometimes we want to do a little bit more but we have to be smart enough not to press it to risk the wear and tear of every day training,” Hampton said. “Hopefully, we do everything right, and we avoid those unlucky type injuries and we just get stronger as the year goes on.”
The key newcomers Hampton pointed out include England natives Shannon Greenway and Jade Ovendale. In addition to those players, two familiar faces join the team after a season or two out of the game. Lauren Carter, who played a year for the Drovers in 2010, and Addie (Tipton) Lee, the 2011 starting goalkeeper, are back.
“Shannon Greenway hopefully will be cleared by the NAIA next week and is a huge player for us in the middle of the park. Lauren Carter and Jade Ovendale will be potentially top forwards but have to produce goals for us,” Hampton said. “Addie Lee returning in goal brings a wealth of experience, and we look for her to be big.”
If there’s one thing you can count on with the Drovers, Hampton said, it’s that they continue to improve as the year goes on. In a preseason scrimmage, Hampton said the women progressed dramatically from the first minute to the last.
“I do believe anything is possible but it is just too early to have a true feel of where we will end up,” Hampton said. “We will get better day in and day out and control the things we can and see where we are standing at the end of the year.”
The Drovers opened the season this weekend, taking both games into overtime before falling 0-2. Lee was named SAC Defensive Player of the Week after recording 24 saves on the week.
They compete in their home opener on Sept. 5 against UT-Brownsville. Kick off is scheduled for 1 p.m.
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