Nov. 23, 2003
Morgantown, WV –
When head coach Patrick Baker took over the Florida State soccer program in 1999, he dreamed of days like this. After just one year on the job, the 15-year head coach had Florida State playing in the Sweet 16. Since then the Tribe has gone back two more times but they hadn’t taken that next step…yet. That all changed Sunday afternoon in Morgantown, WV as FSU downed the sixth-seeded Mountaineers (17-4-2) in double overtime 3-2. The sixth-ranked Seminoles (16-7-1) used a 110th minute golden goal by sophomore Leah Gallegos, her record-setting 18th of the season, to advance to the NCAA Quarterfinals for the first time in program history.
“I shared this with the team last year,” said Florida State head coach Patrick Baker. “I have always wanted to spend Thanksgiving with the team. For 15 straight years I have been going to ODP (Olympic Development Program) Inter-regional Camps across the United States that weekend. You would go there, and especially at FSU, we had been knocked out of the NCAA Tournament the weekend before. You can’t put into words what it means to be able to spend that day together because we will be playing for the right to go to the College Cup that weekend.”
“This is a huge leap for this program and this team,” said Amber Tollefson. “We worked so hard today and to win a game in the last 20 seconds, it doesn’t get much better than that. We fought and we got to the Elite Eight and that is so special.”
Gallegos, who had scored the golden goal versus Auburn in the round of 32, sent FSU to the Elite Eight just 22 seconds before heading into a shootout. The goal, her 18th, set a new single-season record for Florida State and she also set the mark for the most game-winning goals in a season with her seventh. She is the first Seminole to ever record three golden goals in a career and the first ever to notch golden goals in back-to-back games. Her 18 goals are just two behind Lindsay Tarpley for the ACC lead.
“As soon as Leah (Gallegos) got the touch, I knew we were going to win it,” said Baker. “I look up at the clock and there is 22 seconds left and we have advanced to the Elite Eight. It is just very special. I am excited for our players and happy for the program.”
“The only reason that goal is special to me is because it sends us into the Elite Eight,” said Gallegos. “I still have another game with my teammates. That is so much more important than a record.”
The win represents another step forward for a team that has risen to prominence in just the last five years. On top of being just one of eight teams still playing soccer, the win set an FSU record for the most victories in program history (16). It was Florida State’s first ever win in the NCAA Tournament outside of the state of Florida and the three goals were the first FSU has ever scored in a Sweet 16 match.
Sunday’s game also saw Florida State records for most points in a season (174), goals in a season (58) shots (412) and shots on goal (182) all fall. The team also equaled the record for assists in a season with 58. Eight different players have now scored goals in the NCAA Tournament and 10 different players have recorded an assist or a goal.
“We don’t have a lot of players that are on the Hermann Award list or who get looked at for the U-21 and U-19 National Teams but we have some special players,” said Baker. “The biggest thing is we win as a team. We won today as a team. We won against Auburn as a team. We don’t have the personality players a lot of others have but we have a team. We understand our roles and have a great balance. We are the truest definition of the word team. That is exciting about this group. We aren’t relying on one player to step up and be successful although Leah has done that the last two times out but she is being complimented by so many players around her.”
“It is great to statistically help the team but this was a complete team effort today,” said Jez Ratliff, who is the first Seminole to ever record two assists in an NCAA Tournament game for FSU and she has now done it twice. “We had different people step up in different roles today. Everybody helped and everybody’s effort made the difference.”
The win was also Florida State’s eighth in four trips to the NCAA Tournament. The Seminoles NCAA Tournament winning percentage jumped to .727 with the win, which is the fourth-best all-time winning percentage in NCAA Tournament history.
“I give credit to Florida State,” said West Virginia head coach Nikki Izzo-Brown. “They finished their chances and the overtime game-winner was a beautiful goal. They have a great team.”
Sunday’s Sweet 16 match was fairly even statistically. The Mountaineers and Seminoles each took 20 shots and committed 13 fouls. Florida State led in shots on goal (11 to 6) and corner kicks (10 to 8). West Virginia keeper Lana Bannerman was forced to make eight saves while FSU’s Joy McKenzie made four grabs.
“The game was similar to the Auburn game,” said Baker. “There were portions of time when they had the game and portions of time when we had the game. That is what is going to happen in the Sweet 16. There is going to be give and take. You have to be good. You have to be lucky.”
Florida State couldn’t have asked for a better start than they had versus West Virginia in the first 45 minutes. The Tribe, who had never scored a goal in the third round of the NCAA’s, netted two in the first half. Freshman Kelly Rowland put FSU in front 1-0 in the 14th minute and Katie Beal converted a penalty kick in the 22nd minute.
“I thought we prepared very well for this team. We had excellent training sessions all week,” said Baker. “To be up1-0 and then go up 2-0 is a credit to this team. I am so happy for our seniors that they can be a part of this in their final year.”
The Mountaineers looked to break on top first as they had a great chance in the 12th minute. Hermann Award semifinalist Chrissie Abbott got a look at the Florida State goal from the top of the box. Her blast hit off the crossbar and was cleared out.
“You got to be good. You got to be lucky,” said Baker. “They hit the frame. We missed two 1-on-1’s. Those are chances. You have to have good goalkeeping and you have to have a little bit of luck. It is a game of opportunities.”
Just two minutes after Abbott banged one off the iron, the Seminoles mounted their first serious attack. On their first corner kick of the game, surprise starter Rachel McDowell drove a service to the back post. Ratliff, who lost the ball in the sun for a moment, located the service, latched on to it and headed the ball back into the middle.
“I was just hoping I would get it in because I hadn’t been taking great corners as of late,” said McDowell. “Coach told me to aim for the six and that is what I did. I had confidence Kelly (Rowland) or Camie (Bybee) would get on it. I floated it in and Jez (Ratliff) and Kelly did a great job.”
Ratliff’s header went right back into the center of the box where Rowland was sitting and waiting to knock it past Bannerman.
“It came off a corner kick that Rachel (McDowell) drove over everyone,” said Ratliff. “It was hard to locate at first because of the sun but once it came inside I just tried to put it back across the face of the goal. I knew Kelly (Rowland) and Camie (Bybee) would be making their runs there. Kelly got up and put in the header at the back post.”
“It came off a corner and it went to Jez (Ratliff),” said Rowland. “She had a great header that went right to my head. I just tried to knock it home.”
The goal was the fifth of the season for the rookie defender. Four of the five have some in the postseason. She had three in the ACC Tournament and this was her first ever in the NCAA’s. Four of the five Rowland goals have also come via headers.
“I just think on set pieces if we put it up there, either me or Camie (Bybee) will latch on to any ball,” said Rowland. “We are really confident right now in the box and try to keep up that mentality.”
Rowland’s goal was also the fourth by an FSU freshmen in the NCAA Tournament. Half of the Florida State players that have scored in the NCAA’s have been freshmen and the rookie class has accounted for a third of FSU’s points in their three NCAA Tournament games.
“Coming into the postseason, everyone warned the freshmen that the ACC Tournament and NCAA Tournament were huge stages,” said Rowland. “I think that excited our class and we have stepped it up since then. Every one of us has found a way to contribute a goal, an assist a pass, something. But we are the only ones. The team has raised the level and our class has just tried to match that.”
Less than eight minutes later the Seminoles were back in line to add to their lead. Julia Schnugg sent a great ball right to Gallegos’ feet in the center of the West Virginia box and about 14 yards from goal. The sophomore was taken down before she could get a shot off and FSU was awarded its first penalty kick of the season. Katie Beal stepped up and drove it past a diving Bannerman.
“I felt pretty comfortable taking the PK,” said Beal. “We have been practicing them almost everyday so I felt good stepping up and taking it. That was the easy part. Julia (Schnugg) played in a great ball and Leah got taken down. I just stepped up and tucked it in.”
West Virginia had staged just one come from behind win all season and all three of their losses came when their opponent scored first. After falling 2-0 behind at home, WVU started to turn up the pressure on the FSU defense.
“I thought we started the game playing pretty well,” said Baker. “When we went up 2-0, I thought we relaxed a little bit. Give West Virginia credit they picked their game up.”
In the 38th minute West Virginia’s Ashley Weimer took a chance and lofted a shot on goal from almost 40 yards out. The shot began to dip and caught the crossbar. Two minutes later Abbott challenged McKenzie again. Her shot from 25 yards away was punched away on a big time save by the junior.
Just before the half the Mountaineers had their best opportunity of the half. Rachel Minnich redirected a low liner that was headed on frame and sent it towards the back post. McKenzie, who had the original shot sized up, had to adjust to the redirection that was heading to the back post. She was unable to get to the shot but it bounced off the post and right back into McKenzie’s waiting arms.
After half, WVU picked up right where they left off. Just 1:32 into the second period the Mountaineers cut FSU’s lead in half. Lisa Stoia played a ball into the box off a free kick that McKenzie charged and hauled in. In the middle of the mass of attackers and defenders the ball popped out and Lisa Zanti was right there to put the chance away.
“After the first goal, we took a deep breath and regrouped. We knew we would be fine,” said Beal. “We obviously didn’t want to give up an early goal but I thought we responded.”
“In the first half we played pretty well defensively,” said Rowland. “In the second half you have to give West Virginia credit. I think Joy (McKenzie) may have been interfered with on the first goal but that happens. It is part of the game.”
The Tribe reacted to the goal and went back on the offense themselves. Beal sent a free kick service into the box in the 52nd minute. Bybee flicked a header shot that beat the keeper but sailed over the bar. The pair combined again on another set piece just a minute later. This time Beal served a ball to the back post and Bybee was there again. This time her shot was just wide of the goal.
In the next minute, Gallegos had another opportunity to put FSU in front 3-1. Bybee played Schnugg down the left side. The freshman from Alamo, CA got endline and sent a perfect cross on to Gallegos’ head. The Los Angeles, CA native blasted the header but a diving Bannerman came up with a huge save as she pushed the shot just wide.
West Virginia remained patient as they searched for the equalizer but it was Florida State that once again went in search of the clinching goal. In the 71st minute Bybee and Schnugg combined again and the once again linked up with Gallegos in the box. The striker spun away from the defense and fired a low liner to the near post. A WVU defender just got enough of the shot to send it wide of the post.
“We had some chances that we didn’t capitalize on but outside of North Carolina I thought this was the best team we played all year,” said Ratliff. “They were very balanced and excellent in all three areas of the field.”
With 17 minutes remaining the Mountaineers sent numbers forward in hopes of tying the game and in the 73rd minute Kambria Riggins almost did. Laura Kane found Riggins at the far post of the FSU goal. She slammed her header shot back the other way but it went just wide of the post.
With only six minutes remaining the Mountaineers continued to flood the box but it was a shot just outside the 18 that almost tied the match. Nicole Cauzillo saw an opening from about 20 yards out and fired high. McKenzie made a brilliant effort on the drive as she tipped it over the crossbar to preserve the 2-1 lead.
With less than 2:30 seperating Florida State from its first ever Elite Eight, WVU finally got the equalizer they had been looking for. Ashley Weimer played a great ball through the Tribe box and to the back post. Leslie Barden was there waiting and she sent her shot back the other way scoring her third goal of the NCAA Tournament.
“Give them credit. They scored two big five goals in the second half,” said Baker. “You knew they were going to come out fired up. That got the crowd involved. They are desperate because it is 2-1 nearing the end of the game and they don’t want their season to end. Weimer played a beautiful in behind our defense and they capitalized.”
“We tried to stay tough and keep our composure,” said Gallegos. “It happens and they gave us a really good game. It was a little scary when they tied it up. We knew it wasn’t over and we weren’t going to let down.”
The last time Florida State gave up a goal that late in the game was during a 3-2 loss to Virginia at the beginning of October. That game saw the Cavs score the game-winner with 27 seconds on the clock. The Tribe didn’t allow the game-winner in the second half Sunday but the game did move into overtime. It was the second consecutive overtime game for the Seminoles in the NCAA Tournament after downing Auburn 2-1 in the 102nd minute last week.
“We scored two goals in the first half, they scored two goals in the second half and you can’t change what has happened in the past,” said Baker. “Now it comes down to who can step up and stick a goal. We felt like they exhausted a lot of energy getting the game back to 2-2. In overtime we did a nice job and created a lot of quality chances.”
Florida State created the only serious chance in the first overtime period and it came just two minutes in. Freshman India Trotter dribbled three or four WVU defenders and found Schnugg waiting on the endline. The forward found Gallegos inside the box and right in front of the goal. She was unable to beat Bannerman though as she put the ball right down the middle.
Florida State had the only two shots of the first overtime period and the only real chance. In the second 10 minute period things weren’t too different. Neither team was creating clear chances and the game seemed to be destined for a shootout.
In the 108th minute the Seminoles had their best chance of the second overtime. Teresa Rivera’s corner kick was won in the box by Rowland. The freshman, who didn’t lose a single battle in the air all day, won another header but Bannerman was there once again to push the shot wide.
“West Virginia definitely had the momentum in the second half,” said Ratliff. “Once overtime started we had a renewed energy and that showed offensively. Towards the end we were getting a lot of chances and we knew it was coming.”
The chances didn’t seem like they were going to result in a win though as the clock ticked down to 30 seconds remaining. A Florida State throw-in was cleared out on the right side as West Virginia was just trying to play the ball into space and run the clock down. Beal made a sensational effort to track the ball down. She turned and launched a service to the top of the 18 where Ratliff and Gallegos were waiting.
“Beal hustled to get the ball and served it in,” said Ratliff. “I thought I heard Camie (Bybee) calling for it. I knew someone was there so I turned and made the pass and it was Leah (Gallegos).”
Ratliff was able to control the service and she just slipped the ball to the wide side of the goal to Gallegos. As the clock ticked under 25 seconds the sophomore took a touch to goal and then blasted a shot in at the near post.
“First of all, for Beal to be in good shape positionally to get that ball, turn and then technically be able to serve,” said Baker. “Second of all, for both Jez (Ratliff) and Leah (Gallegos) to have bent their runs to the back side and Jez be able to settle and lay that ball off is just remarkable. We get Leah in those situations and we like our chances. She stepped up again in overtime.”
“Jez (Ratliff) played me a perfect ball,” said Gallegos. “I had time so I didn’t get nervous. I took my touch and just made sure it was on frame. I was just thinking score, score, score. That was all that ran through my head. I knew there wasn’t much time and I did what I could.”
The game-winner was the 10th of Gallegos’ career. Just two years into her FSU carfeer, she is already in second place all-time in career game-winning goals with 10. She is just the second Seminole to ever record double digit game-winning goals in a career. She is now also the first FSU player to ever record two game-winning goals in a career in the NCAA Tournament and the first to do it in one season.
“There is an unbelievable rush of excitement when Leah (Gallegos) gets that golden goal,” said Baker. “We didn’t get her a ton of good looks but the one she got she made stand up. That is a credit to her.”
“Immediately after that ball goes in the goal, it is the most excited you could ever feel,” said Gallegos. “You just run to every player on your team and don’t even really know what is going on. You are screaming and celebrating. After that it starts to sink in that you are going to the Elite Eight. It is so exciting to get a win in OT but even more so to extend our season another week. To have another opportunity to run to all your teammates and hug them and scream and celebrate, I love that feeling more than the individual success from scoring the goal.”
The Seminoles now join BYU as the only two teams in the Elite Eight making their first-ever appearance in the NCAA quarterfinals. It took Florida State senior Amber Tollefson three tries but the lone playing senior is going to the Elite Eight.
“Every year is different and the first two times we made the Sweet 16 we were still kind of glad to be there,” said Tollefson. “This team deserved to advance further. Those experiences helped us. You can’t put into words how it feels to get over that hurdle. It is indescribable. I am so happy for this team. It is a dream come true.”
“This is really rewarding,” said Ratliff. “All the hard work, all the tears we shed all the sweat that everyone put in has paid off. Everyone is feeling good and confident as we head to Gainesville.”
This is the Tribe’s eighth win of the season over a ranked team but just their first of the year over a top 10 squad. This is the sixth all-time win for FSU over a team ranked in the top 10 of the NSCAA poll. West Virginia finishes it’s most successful season ever with a record of 17-4-2.
“We feel like we have learned some pretty valuable lessons in our two previous Sweet 16 trips,” said Baker. “Against Clemson we were just happy to be there and they promptly took it to us. Last year against UConn, we left the game realizing it was there for the taking. It just comes down to who capitalizes on their chances whether that be in the first two minutes or the last 21 seconds. If you keep putting yourself in position, hopefully at some point in time you will be able to take the next step.
“Both of these teams could easily be playing next week in Gainesville. There is no doubt about that. West Virginia is the No. 6 seed because they have great coaching, wonderful talent and special team chemistry. They defend well and they score goals. It is a credit to our group to come to a difficult place to play and get a result.”
Florida State’s first ever Elite Eight match will come against a familiar foe in the third-seeded Florida Gators (19-3-2). The Gators beat FSU 2-0 in the Tribe’s fourth match of the season. Overall, Florida leads the all-time series 7-3 but Florida State has won three of the last five meetings and the only ever meeting between the teams in the NCAA Tournament. The game will be played in Gainesville Sunday, November 30.
“It is an awesome feeling to know that all the hard work from the first day of preseason to know is paying off,” said Rowland. “If we have come this far, we might as well keep going. We want to take that mentality into our next game. Put it all on the line and see what happens.”
The time has not yet been set. For more information visit the official athletic website for the Florida State Department of Athletics at www.seminoles.com.