Oct. 6, 2004
By Elliott Finebloom, FSU Sports Information
Seminole defender Marion Cagle may have been the first Tallahassee player to ever receive a soccer scholarship to play at Florida State but that doesn’t mean things were easy for the former Leon High School star. The right back’s journey to becoming a two-year starter began with her sitting the bench for two years before breaking into the starting 11 last season.
“There was frustration the first few years. Anyone who comes to play at FSU was a star at some level growing up. You are used to having that spotlight on you and then reality sets in when you get to college. You realize you are no longer the best player,” said Marion. “You aren’t the leading goal scorer. That transition was tough for me. I definitely did my time sitting the bench.”
What made sitting the bench even harder for Marion was the journey it took for her to get to FSU. Marion didn’t have the resume that most players need to have to play for a school like Florida State. In her class there was a Gatorade Player of the Year and three national pool players. While Marion had success at the regional ODP level and even got called in to a national team camp in 1999, the soccer community in Tallahassee made it very hard for her to get noticed.
“The biggest problem was the level of competitive soccer in the area. I had to get a release to play soccer in other places in the state,” recalls Marion. “There really isn’t club soccer in Tallahassee. It is more social than competitive. People play in high school but don’t want to go on and play at the Division I level in college. People felt like I was turning my back on the soccer community here. I was just trying to better myself so that maybe one day I could get a scholarship.”
Marion did get noticed and became the first player from Tallahassee to play for the Seminoles but that didn’t put an end to her struggles. Freshman year she played in every game but one yet she did not record a start. She was moving between defense and the wide midfield and as a sophomore she saw her minutes and games played decline.
“At first the only place I fit or where I could play a role was in the midfield. It was a hard transition because I had never ever faced players of that caliber,” remembers Marion. “I wasn’t confident in that position, it always scared me.”
Sophomore year was a tough time for Marion but she always had two important people to lean on in her mom and dad. Marion describes her parents as her best friends and their support was key to her sticking it out at FSU those first two years.
“My parents helped me remain positive as I waited for my turn,” remembers Marion. “I spoke to them everyday. There were times I felt like I couldn’t do it anymore. My dad would tell me that we aren’t quitters and that I would get my opportunity. He told me I needed to show the coaches that they couldn’t afford to play without me being on the field. My parents helped me get through the whole thing. They motivated me to never give up.”
Coming into her junior season FSU had lost two starting defenders in Meredith Jones and Ashlee Fontes. Marion was going to get her chance then the unthinkable happened. Marion’s dad passed away August 25 during preseason.
“When my dad, who was one of my best friends, died I didn’t know how I was going to go on,” said Marion while trying to hold back her tears. “I didn’t know what I was going to do with myself, with soccer and with my life. The last conversation we had was about not being a quitter. We talked about me doing my individual training sessions and putting in as much work as I could to get a starting spot.”
At that point Marion rededicated herself to fulfilling her father’s final wish. She wanted to make him proud and that last conversation between father and daughter changed her life.
“My dad’s death caused me to do a 180. I had been at the complete bottom of the spectrum as far as soccer goes. I was a player that was never going to play. I had two years left to play and one of the most important people in my life had just died. I had to do this for him. I knew my dad would be watching me. I had to prove to him that I wasn’t a quitter and that I could win a starting job,” said Marion.
Five games into 2003 Marion was still trying to recover from the shocking loss of her father and had yet to start a game. The Tribe was off to a 1-4 start and head coach Patrick Baker started making changes including giving Marion the first start of her FSU career.
“I was nervous at first. I kept wondering if I would get pulled the first time I made a mistake,” remembers Marion. “As the game went on I got comfortable. I knew my dad was up there watching me and that I was going to be fine.
“I knew that it may be my only opportunity and I better take advantage of it. I just keep telling myself that I deserved to be out there and I was going to be out there every single game.”
Marion has been out there every game since that start versus San Diego State. She had reached the goal that she and her father had talked about for two years but he wasn’t there to share in the joy.
“My dad never saw me play but he was a huge part of this. We talked up to four or five times a day. He was a huge part of my life,” said a tearful Marion. “There are days when I wish he could be here to see how much effort and work I put in. We did what we both wanted me to do and that was win a starting spot. This year I am starting every game and everyday I wish he could come to just one game and see me play.”
While Marion regrets that her dad isn’t here to enjoy her success she is thankful that her mother is. Marion’s mom is a fixture at every Florida State game and has been all four years. The two share a very close relationship.
“It is big for me to have my mom at pretty much every game. Even when I wasn’t a starter she was at every game,” recalls Marion. “Seeing her at every game, especially since my dad died, I realize that you never know what can happen. So it is great she has the opportunity to come and see me play.”
Marion and her mom are very close and that relationship was a main reason Marion never really considered playing anywhere but FSU. The self-described hometown girl didn’t want to be too far from her mom.
“I would never be the person I am now without my mom,” said Marion. “I would never be as strong as I am without her. She is my backbone. Without her I don’t know what I would do. She is always there for me and I have her to thank for the person I am now.”
The person Marion is now is a leader and someone teammates and especially underclassmen look up to. She is an example of what can happen when a player combines a lot of hard work with a little patience. With the success FSU has had over the last five years, more players will be following Cagle’s example of having to wait their turn and she is there to show them patience can be a virtue.
“I was patient and finally I got my opportunity. As a senior I try to pass that along,” said Marion. “I tell the freshmen don’t get frustrated if your opportunity doesn’t come today or tomorrow. Stick with it because you will get an opportunity. You will get a chance to play and be a part of the team.
“It is strange to see younger players now looking up to me or trying to emulate what I have accomplished because I had doubts I would ever get this far. So many things you take for granted as a freshman now hit home as a senior. I really take things to heart right now.”
That is another lesson Marion is trying to pass on to her younger teammates. Her mom always told her, `What makes you weak makes you strong’ and Marion has lived that saying all four years. Now that she has reached the top by starting 31 straight games including an ACC Championship final and a final four game versus UConn.
“I appreciate every thing I have. I don’t take anything for granted,” said Marion. “It was a difficult journey for me. I had to work to get where I am today but I would do it all over if I had to. Being in the College Cup was a rush. I can never replace that experience I had.”
With her mother in the stands and her father watching her from above, things really couldn’t have turned out any better for Marion despite the rocky start.
“I know my dad is up there watching my every move and every step that I take. It feels great knowing I proved to him that I am not a quitter and I won a starting spot.”