NORMAN – Nicole Nelson likes the balance that her University of Oklahoma women’s soccer team will bring to the table this fall.
Nelson, who enters her third season as head coach of the Sooners, returns 10 starters off a 7-10-2 squad from 2009 (2-7-1 in the Big 12 Conference).
“I think there’s a lot of balance with the returning players. They have developed and are the core of our team along with a lot of newcomers who could step in and contribute right away,” said Nelson.
Back for her senior season is Big 12 First Team All-Conference selection Whitney Palmer, who scored 15 goals (ranked 12th nationally and second in the Big 12) and assisted on two others last year. Because of her efforts last season, she was named to the preseason all-conference team last Wednesday.
Palmer is the first player in the history of the OU program to be selected to the conference preseason squad twice and is the first Sooner to lead the team in outright scoring for three straight years.
“Whitney is an extremely gifted, goal-scorer. She’s very special as an athlete. Her athletic ability is hard to match,” Nelson said. “She’s very special in that she does an incredible job finishing and she’s explosive as a frontrunner. Her work rate matches her talent and she’s done an excellent job in developing from weaknesses in her career.”
Joining Palmer on the attack is sophomore midfielder Dria Hampton, who posted a fine freshman season last year with three goals and four assists. Her goal total was second on the squad and she topped the team’s assist list.
“Dria had a good freshman season and did a tremendous job of making herself better. She is one of the most-driven athletes I’ve worked with. She’s one of the best passers of a final ball at this level. She’s a huge factor in our attack and makes players around her better,” said Nelson.
Joining Palmer up front is sophomore Caitlin Mooney, a transfer from Maryland, but a native of Edmond, Okla.
“Caitlin will provide great balance to Whitney. She’s good with her back to the goal and holding the ball. She is extremely gifted and she sees things that a lot of other players don’t see. She’s a great compliment to Whitney,” Nelson said.
Defensively, OU welcomes back three starters to go with returning goalkeeper and sophomore Kelsey Devonshire, who played all of the team’s minutes in 2009. Devonshire was the owner of six shutouts and posted a 1.74 goals-against average.
“Kelsey had a good freshman year, statistically and competitive-wise. She’s the rock of our defense and has better vision than most keepers. Her communication and organizational skills are good and she’s naturally a great shot-stopper. She has the ability to win balls in the air which sets her apart from a lot of female goalies,” said Nelson.
The Sooners’ trio of returning defenders include: sophomore Katharine Nutman, senior Lauren Alkek and junior Michelle Alexander.
Nutman, a native of Southend, England, managed to score once last season while playing the center fullback position. Alexander scored two goals and served up three assists.
“We’ve added a very competitive freshman class that can play at an extremely high level,” Nelson said.
One of those is defender Carrie Whigham, who was team captain of the under-18 U.S. national team which played in a tournament in Spain last February. Whigham has been part of the U.S. national program since the age of 15.
“She has not been fully released medically. We’re waiting on that,” said Nelson. “I think we have a number of great players in this (freshman) class.”
NOTES: The Sooners will launch the 2010 season on Friday, Aug. 20, against arch-rival Oklahoma State in Stillwater at 7 p.m. It will be the first of two Bedlam meetings between OU and the Cowgirls this season. The Aug. 20th match will not count in the Big 12 standings. However, the second meeting in Norman, on Oct. 29 will factor into the conference race…Nelson has a career head coaching record of 43-44-12, including a 10-25-3 mark with the Sooners. She was head coach at Stephen F. Austin for three years (2002-04), before serving as an assistant at Baylor in 2005 and at the University of Texas in 2006-07…OU’s Dria Hampton is the daughter of Jimmy Hampton, the men’s and women’s head soccer coach at the University of Science & Arts of Oklahoma (USAO) in Chickasha…OU unofficially opened the 2010 season on Friday, Aug. 13, with a 6-1 exhibition victory over Northern Colorado behind Mooney’s hat trick. Dria Hampton, Palmer and Zoe Dickson scored one goal apiece for the Sooners at OU’s John Crain Field. Palmer, Hampton and Samantha Howell had one assist apiece for the winners.