Dec. 1, 2005
College Station, TX – The 2005 Seminoles are a remarkable story and not just because they went into Chapel Hill and ousted the Tar Heels to advance to the College Cup last week. This team was picked to finish sixth in the ACC preseason coaches poll yet they are one of only four teams still playing in Division I women’s soccer. Florida State is the only No. 2 seed to advance to the College Cup and the Seminoles are the only team in College Station, TX this weekend to advance past a higher ranked team in the NCAA Tournament and they did it twice (Cal and UNC). They will try to accomplish that feat for a third game in a row when they face top-seeded UCLA (21-1-2) Friday night at 7: 30 p.m. EST.
“Winning a National Championship is a tough task for everybody,” said first year FSU Head Coach Mark Krikorian. “We have known for a few rounds that there are no easy games. The easy games are long gone. The margin between winning and losing now is small. The thing we also saw the other day was on any given day you can go out and find a way to get yourself a win. We saw that versus Carolina. If we have the same level of concentration and the same physical commitment to defend and attack, I think our chances are quite good.”
It wasn’t that long ago that it didn’t even seem like Florida State’s chances were that good to be in the postseason at all let alone the College Cup. This 2005 Seminole team has overcome a lot more than just seeded opponents this season. This group saw their head coach (Patrick Baker) leave to take over the program at the University of Georgia on December 8. Krikorian wasn’t hired until January 12. The team lost seven starters including two who transferred back to California (Leah Gallegos and Julia Schnugg). Almost half the letter winners from the previous season were gone and of the 29 goals scored in 2004, players who accounted for 20 of those goals were gone as well.
“I think we just went through so much in the off-season,” said junior captain Kelly Rowland. “I am so happy for everyone who stuck with us and invested themselves in this program. From Sarah Wagenfuhr who stay committed to FSU despite the coaching change to players sticking it out rather than transferring. It’s just an amazing accomplishment in my eyes.”
As hard as it was for the players, it was no easy task for Krikorian either. He had less than eight months to bring a team that was in danger of splitting apart back together, assemble a coaching staff and refortify a recruiting class that saw three players de-commit after Baker’s departure.
“We came into a situation in transition and didn’t know any of the players,” said Krikorian. “I didn’t know the players here or the players we were bringing in. I didn’t even know who was going to be on the staff. There were so many different question marks that were leading to uncertainty.”
Slowly but surely the uncertainty started to go away. A team meeting at senior Teresa Rivera’s house was the first step towards keeping the team together. Players like Rowland and All-America candidate India Trotter put the next piece of the puzzle in place when they decided to stay and no longer flirt with the possibility of transferring. Then came Krikorian and a top notch staff comprised of three assistants that all had been head coaches on the collegiate level in their careers.
“I do feel like one of the best things I did when I came here was put together the staff we have,” said Krikorian. “I have three people on my staff who have been head coaches. I would like to take complete credit for our success but I can’t. We are a team as a coaching group.
“Sometimes one of my assistants will see something, it may be insignificant, but it may be important to one of our players. All of us have worked together to give these players a level of comfort and trust that they can be themselves and be successful. I do think so far things have gone in a very positive direction.”
On top of his coaching staff, Krikorian has long credited his returning players for not only accepting the changes but welcoming in a class of nine newcomers including six foreigners. The veterans’ willingness to accept a new staff with new ideas on top of a turnover of almost half the team has been one of the keys to success.
“The most important thing I asked of the returning players when I got here was to be open-minded because things will be a little bit different,” said Krikorian. “Every coach has different ideas and philosophies. If they stay open minded, we have a chance to be successful. My staff and the veteran players have all had a huge impact on the team.”
“It was a challenge,” said Rowland about the offseason. “Coming into preseason we didn’t know who was going to be here. We didn’t know the coaching staff that well. It is just a testament that everyone came in with an open mind. Eventually we were all excited to start getting ready for the season. It is a credit to everyone. There is no division among classes. There is no seniority on this team. Everyone was welcomed in with open arms and that definitely helped us.”
What started out looking like a nightmare for the 2005 Seminoles has turned into a dream. FSU came into 2005 unranked in a preseason poll for the first time in four years. They were pegged sixth in the ACC in the preseason coaches’ poll. Starters Viola Odebrecht and Kirsten van de Ven didn’t even show up on campus until fall practice had already begun yet this team has set offensive and defensive records, finished second in the ACC and now is just one of four teams in the country left with a chance to win a National Championship.
“To be sitting here today in November preparing for a final four is a fantastic feeling,” said Krikorian. “It’s a dream season.”
“I went to the final four as a freshman and now as a junior we are going again,” said Trotter. “If you had told me that three years ago, I wouldn’t have believed it. All my dreams about college soccer are coming true.”
As they are for the Seminoles program as well.