Nov. 21, 2002
Tallahassee, FL –
Something has to give when the 21st-ranked Seminoles (13-6-3) and 4th-ranked Huskies (20-2-1) meet in Storrs, CT Sunday at 1:00 p.m. The Sweet 16 match-up features two teams who have combined to score a goal in 43 consecutive matches but while that is an amazing streak, it doesn’t necessarily have to end for either team this weekend. There is one streak though that will come to an end and that will be either UConn’s undefeated mark at home or FSU’s undefeated road mark. One of the teams will continue on in the NCAA Tournament to the Elite Eight with their streak in tact. The other will go home.
Florida State went undefeated on the road (4-0-1) for the first time in the history of the program this season. Not only did they record two wins over ranked teams in their own stadiums but they did it in back-to-back games in the ACC for the first time in the program’s eight years. A 5-1 win at then No. 19 NC State and a 1-0 win at frigid Ludwig Field over 16th-ranked Maryland represented the first time in Florida State soccer history that a Seminole squad has won two road games versus ranked opponents in one campaign.
The reason is togetherness. To a player, this team feels it has won on the road due to the amount of time they have spent with one another.
“We spend so much time together when we have been on the road and we are just very close. Even when we had those tournament games at home last week, we still wanted to eat every meal together and just be together as much as possible,” said Amber Tollefson. “Spending so much time together has translated to success on the field.”
“I think we have been successful on the road this year because we have spent so much time together as a team,” said senior Katie Talley. “It doesn’t bother this team to be away from home. We have bonded by going on the road.”
Head coach Patrick Baker has transformed this team in so many ways and their success in other team’s stadiums in 2002 is just the latest of his reclamation projects. The coach’s first priority was to get his team to win at home which they did more often every year culminating in a perfect 8-0-0 home record in 2001. Next he wanted them to perform better in the ACC and his team responded again. After winning just three conference matches in five seasons, the Seminoles have won seven over the last two campaigns and played for an ACC Championship in 2001. Lastly, he wanted his Seminoles to start to make strides on the road,
The Seminoles have gotten better and better every season on the road since Baker’s first season in 1999. After winning five of 11 road games in his inaugural campaign, the Seminoles moved to 3-3-1 in 2000 and then 5-4-0 in 2001. Each season the Seminoles took one small step towards road respectability but in 2002, they blew all of those one-win increases out of the water by increasing their road winning percentage from .556 last year to .889 in 2002.
“One of the biggest reasons we’ve been successful is because we have changed our mentality on the road. We have grown into that mentality,” said Baker. “We really struggled away from home in the past and I think we have finally gotten the format down now. The way you train on the road. They right way to do meals and meetings. We have done a much better job this year all the way around from coaches to players in creating the right setting to be successful.”
Talley, a senior who has been here every step of the way, can see the difference.
“I think we are at a point now that we know what to do on the road,” she said.
Winning on the road in the regular season is impressive but winning in someone else’s stadium in the NCAA Tournament is something completely different. Florida State is not unaccustomed to playing away from home in the NCAA’s and they have even won a couple. The biggest of those road wins came in 2000 when FSU went to Gainesville and knocked off a Gator team that was just two seasons removed from a National Championship.
“You try to use all of your NCAA Tournament experience every year whether you play at home or away,” said Baker. “As much experience as we’ve had, we have never been to UConn. We don’t have a picture of what that environment is like. Every where we traveled on the road this year and in the last two NCAA Tournaments we have been before. We know the area. Connecticut is unchartered waters for us.”
The only other time FSU was in the Sweet 16 was the 2000 season and they had to go on the road that year also. The Seminoles took the field for the program’s first-ever Sweet 16 in the school’s first year in the NCAA Tournament versus a team they were familiar with in ACC foe Clemson. That game is still fresh on the mind of many of FSU’s players.
“I remember how I felt the last time we played in the Sweet 16 and it was the most amazing feeling. We will be driven by that energy,” said Tollefson. “It’s a feeling you only get in the postseason. There are only 16 teams playing and that has to mean something. That has to be special for us and we need to play off that energy.”
“The cold temperatures will probably remind a lot of our kids of the Sweet 16 in 2000 in Clemson when the temperature was in the high 20’s or low 30’s,” said Baker. “It will be a similar environment this Sunday.”
Weather was a topic of discussion among the Seminoles this week considering more than half of FSU’s roster is comprised of players from Florida and only three of the Seminoles’ 27 players grew up in a cold weather environment. While the Tribe may not be used to he cold weather, game time temperature is projected to be in the 40’s, Florida State did win the one game it played in 2002 in similar circumstances when they defeated Maryland in College Park in sub-40 degree weather.
“We are excited to go to Connecticut,” said Tollefson. “We know it will be cold but it is easier to adjust to the cold than it is the other way around.”
The Seminoles will travel to Connecticut Friday morning and continue preparations for their Sweet 16 match-up on the UConn campus. Check back to www.semionoles.com Friday when part two of “Inside the Sweet 16” will focus on an FSU star who could have just as easily been wearing the white and blue of UConn instead of Florida State’s Garnet and Gold.