Nov. 30, 2005
Tallahassee, FL – In 2003 the Florida State soccer program played in its first College Cup. From the time the NCAA Women’s Soccer Tournament expanded to 32 teams in 1996, only one school had advanced to its first final four in a shorter amount of time than the Seminoles. Florida State made it to the Cup by upsetting arch-rival Florida on its own field. For a team that was in just its fourth-ever NCAA Tournament and who had never even been past the round of 16, it was a pretty exciting time.
That season Florida State opened the College Cup playing an unseeded UConn team that didn’t have to face a single seeded team to reach the final four that year. They saw seeded teams in Notre Dame (2), Virginia, (7) and Boston College (13) all get upset before the Huskies had to face them. Then they eliminated Florida State 2-0 on the first day of play.
“We were just so happy being there,” said junior team captain Kelly Rowland about 2003. “At the banquet we were sitting there saying to ourselves that we couldn’t believe we were here. We are excited to get there again but I think we can do more.”
This time around the Seminoles plan to do more. There won’t be as many wide eyes when the second-seeded Florida State soccer team (20-3-1) touches down in Texas A&M Wednesday evening. While this year’s roster is quite different from the one that FSU sent to its first final four, three players that started FSU’s game versus UConn are expected to be in the starting 11 when the team takes the field versus UCLA Friday. Senior Teresa Rivera and juniors India Trotter and Rowland each will make their second ever College Cup start in Texas this weekend. Three other Seminoles (Alli Ferreri, Rachel McDowell and Toby Ranck) came off the bench to garner time in the 2003 Cup. Overall, nine of FSU’s current 24 players were on the roster the last time the team made it to the national semifinals.
“It isn’t enough to just get there (the College Cup),” said All-America candidate India Trotter. “We want to win a National Championship. The first time we went to the College Cup we did it by beating Florida and that was special. This time it came at UNC and that makes it even more special. It is a special feeling to beat a No. 1 seed like North Carolina on their field.”
“We talked about this after the Carolina game,” said FSU Head Coach Mark Krikorian. “We could have walked away from Carolina with a loss and people would have said we had a great season. Just getting to the face Carolina can be enough if you want it to be or you can say we didn’t come all this way just to get to the round of eight. We didn’t come this far just to get to the College Cup. What I told the players on Carolina’s field after the game was congratulations. The effort was just outstanding and we can go in one of two directions now. We can be happy just to be going to the College Cup or we can come back as champions.”
While no current Seminoles has ever won a game in the final four, it doesn’t mean the team is lacking in experience when it comes to winning a National Title. That is where first year coach Krikorian steps in. As the head coach at Franklin Pierce he played in four NCAA semifinals and won two National Championships. In his mind those experiences will help a relatively inexperienced group compared to a College Cup field that has combined to make 15 final four appearances.
“When we went to the first final four at Franklin Pierce after it was over there were so many lessons we learned because we hadn’t been there before and we used those lessons later on to help us win National Championships,” said Krikorian. “The fact that some of the players have been to a College Cup before and seen the blitz of media and all the attention will help insulate us and deal with what is important. What is most important is being physically and mentally prepared for the competition on Friday.”
With just three starters ever having played on the College Cup stage you’d think there might be some nerves come Friday at 7:30 p.m. local time when the game kicks but that may not be the case. On top of Rowland, Trotter and Rivera, FSU will start four other players with experience playing on a big stage. Sel Kuralay, Viola Odebrecht, Katrin Schmidt and Mami Yamaguchi have all played in big games internationally for their countries. Including the 2004 Olympics in Athens where Kuralay played for Australia and Odebrecht for Germany.
“Sure, I know it is a big deal,” said Odebrecht when asked how the NCAA semifinal compares to the World Cup and Olympics. “Every championship is different. I won the World Cup Championship with Germany and that was a big deal. This is a big deal too. I have a feeling for the importance of this and I am excited to go to the final four. I hope we can win it all.”
While 14 players will walk into the Aggie Soccer Stadium Friday night short on experience in the College Cup the one thing this group won’t be lacking is confidence. After eliminating 17-time National Champion North Carolina in a PK shootout in Chapel Hill, this Seminole squad will enter the national semifinal feeling like they have a chance to beat anyone. Their coach doesn’t disagree.
“All of us realize we are in a unique situation,” said Krikorian. “Some teams never make it to a College Cup. Some teams have been there and not gotten the result they want. Then you look back and regret it. We control our own destiny right now. In my estimation we got past the most difficult team in the country. I am sure there are three other teams thrilled that Carolina isn’t going to the College Cup. I am sure they are thrilled Carolina isn’t going to be there. We have done what I consider is the most difficult part in knocking Carolina out of the tournament. That is not to take anything away from UCLA, Portland or Penn State. We have put ourselves in position to walk away with another couple of wins.”
“The kind of confidence you get from beating UNC in their home in a penalty kick shootout is amazing,” said Rowland. “People now realize Florida State is here and that they aren’t a joke. That was something we realized all along. It has definitely given us a lot of confidence that we can compete with anyone and we will.”