CHICKASHA – The Drover women will be back in full force this season, ready to overcome any opponent set in front of them and determined to take the Sooner Athletic Conference title.

The 2009 team, who went on to play in the conference tournament, was full young talent, sporting 12 freshmen and seven sophomores. With only two players graduating, Coach Jimmy Hampton has almost the exact same team on his hands.

He said the young team’s added maturity could make the difference between last season as this one.

“The women should be better with so much experience coming back from a group that was just on the edge of a break out season,” he said.

The Drovers went 13-6 last season, losing each of the six games by only one goal.

“On the girls team, we must learn from the mistakes last season and improve,” Assistant Coach Alexis Vizarelis said.

The team returns strong forwards and defenders. Perhaps the only question mark for the team is at goalkeeper. Destiny Wilson, who spent four seasons defending the team’s goals, graduated in December.

To fill the empty position, coaches recruited freshman Addie Tipton from Metro Christian Academy in Tulsa. Tipton comes to the Drovers with numerous high school honors, including a No. 2 ranking by out of all keepers in all divisions in 2009.

Returning this season are some key players, including Sooner Athletic Conference Newcomer of the Year Calli Cooper. In addition to easily leading the team in goals, assists, points, shots and shots on goal, she set numerous school records as a true freshman. Cooper pulled in two hat tricks for the Drovers, helping shoot her goal total to 26 for the season. Cooper also was named an NAIA All-America Honorable Mention and National Soccer Coaches’ Association of America Third Team All-American.

?Also returning are All-Conference Second Team stars Taylor Fain, Gabby Martinez and Brittany Jay. Fain came in second in the team in goals with 15. Like Cooper, she had a hat trick during the season, pulling in three goals against Wayland Baptist in November, all in her first season at USAO.

Jay, who has been with the team since she was a freshman in 2007, has consistently been a standout player for the Drovers. In 2009, she scored 13 goals and had 12 assists as a starting forward. She has 22 goals, 17 assists and 61 points for her career.

Martinez started in every game for the Drovers last season, pulling in nine goals, including two against Huston-Tillotson. She helped the Drovers to a 3-2 victory of Mid-America Christian in October.

The women are expected to come in third in the conference in 2010, according to the SAC Preseason Coach’s Poll. They are also ranked 34th in the NAIA.

But Hampton expects the team to compete its best in each game, and ultimately, win the conference and receive the coveted invite to the 2010 NAIA National Tournament.

“Both teams must expect to go to nationals,” Vizarelis said. “But before we do that we must set our sights on winning conference, which is an attainable goal for both the men and women.”

Published: Aug. 18, 2010