By Michelle Borland

Entering their fourth season of existence with three winning seasons behind them, the Texas Tech soccer program has laid a solid foundation. However, that foundation will be put to the test this season as the program undergoes a facelift.

Diane Nichols, the coach who guided the Tech program from its birth, decided to return to high school coaching after fashioning a 34-20 collegiate record. Her departure, along with that of first-year assistant coach Cathy Reid, left only one on the Red Raider coaching staff. That one, however, was more than capable of taking control of the program.

For two years, Felix Oskam served as an assistant coach under Nichols. Now it is his turn to take over the reigns of the Texas Tech soccer program. Oskam was named head coach on July 29.

"I am very excited," Oskam said. "This is a dream come true. It has been my goal for a long time to be a head coach at a good Division I school with a great deal of potential. I am comfortable coaching the team and they are use to me, so I think the transition will be smooth. The majority of our kids know me and know what I am all about."

What Oskam inherited is a team who had seven freshman starters and finished last season with an overall mark of 13-8 and a fourth place finish in the Big 12 Conference.

"Our greatest strength is that we are a year older," Oskam said "We learned a lot from last year. Our kids now know what the Big 12 is all about. They will have to compete at a higher level this season."

The Red Raiders have, in fact, already competed at a higher level at the early juncture of the season. After opening losses to New Mexico and Mississippi, Tech went on the road and won its first two Big 12 matches at Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

"It took the pressure of our kids," Oskam said. "Starting off 2-0 in the Big 12 Conference will help them tremendously."

While six sophomore starters return this season, the Red Raiders also have two seniors coming back. Their return will mark a first in Texas Tech soccer history. Julie Clement and Raney Terrell will become the program's first four-year letterwinners. Their leadership will be crucial to this season's squad.

"I expect Julie and Raney to provide the leadership that we desperately need on our team this season," Oskam said.

With the leadership roles intact, Oskam looks for forwards Kristy Frantz and Amaris Smith to provide the strength up top.

As a freshman, Frantz practically rewrote the Texas Tech single season records. She started in all 21 games and finished the year with a team high 18 goals, eight assists and 44 points. She currently holds single season school records in goals and points. Her eight assists were one shy of the record set by Kristi Patterson during the 1995 season. Frantz was named to the All-Big 12 second team and was an honorable mention Freshman All-America pick by Soccer Buzz.

"Kristi is our leader in number of goals scored and number of points. I am looking for her to step it up again this season," Oskam said.

Perhaps overshadowed by Frantz was fellow forward Amaris Smith. Last season, the freshman was second on the team in goals with 11, assists with five, and points with 27. Smith could definitely have a major impact on the program since Frantz is likely to garner a lot of defensive attention.

"Everybody knows who Kristi Frantz is, so maybe they will target on her. Amaris is the kind of player who can take advantage of that," Oskam said.

Other Red Raider players to watch include Julie Clement, Lizzie Biles, Jennifer Benat, Academic All-American Jennifer Wood and goalkeeper Lizzie Pruitt, who tended the goal for 1868 minutes of the team's 1890 minutes played last season.

While the Red Raiders are a year older, they will still look to a talented group of freshmen to come in a make an impact.

Tech hopes to strengthen its midfield play by bringing in three new talents -- Melinda Hemmer , Lindsay Thompson and Whitney Myers. Forward Gina Peranio of Berkner High school in Richardson will bring some depth, while goalkeeper Lisa Forman will battle Pruitt for the starting position.

As Oskam leads his team into the Big 12, they will face such perennial powerhouses as Texas A&M and Nebraska. He looks for both of those teams to be among the top in the conference again this season. However, Colorado, Missouri, Texas and second-year program Baylor should also give the Red Raiders some tough competition.

For the Red Raiders it should be a promising year. A new coaching staff, a solid core of returnees, and a talented group of newcomers should all come together and continue Tech's progress.

For Oskam, it will mean the beginning of a new era. His expertise in the sport of soccer should take the Red Raider program to new heights.

"With my background, the experience I have had as a player, but also now as a coach, I think I know what it takes to take this program to the next level and I think we can get there."

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