Jan. 30, 2002
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. –
Florida State freshman defender Katie Beal takes life one-step at a time and so far it has been working for her. The Alexandria, VA native followed that philosophy when she won the starting center back job for the 11th-ranked Seminoles in pre-season and went on to start every game except one as a rookie this past year. She used the same approach when she was named to the All-ACC Tournament team, to the All-ACC rookie team and a SoccerBuzz third team All-Southeast Region selection. And it was the same way she approached being named just Florida State’s second-ever SoccerBuzz first team freshman All-American.
“I never thought about how much I would start or the possibility of winning awards when the season started,” said Beal. “I just took things day by day. I focused on becoming a better player and helping my team. I am not the type of person or player who is all about individual recognition.
“I wanted to come in as a freshman and prove to my teammates that I was a good player but also a good person and to show my team that I would do whatever they needed me to do.”
Beal accomplished all of those things and much more during her inaugural campaign. She was a fixture in the center of the FSU defense as the Seminoles faced the most difficult regular season schedule in the nation. Florida State played five games versus 2001 Final Four participants, four more games versus top 15 teams, in an ACC Championship for the first time ever and in the school’s second consecutive NCAA Tournament.
“I thought Katie had a tremendous freshman season,” said head coach Patrick Baker. “To be one of the freshmen who started from beginning to end and to show the type of composure she showed throughout the season especially against the level of opponents we played says a lot. She faced Santa Clara, Portland and Florida at the start of the season and she did a great job.”
Coming in and starting immediately as a freshman is never an easy task. An even more arduous task when you play every team in the Final Four in addition to a full slate of games in the ACC, which is widely considered the nation’s premier women’s soccer conference. That was a fact that wasn’t lost on Beal as she went through the recruiting process and then looked ahead to FSU’s 2001 slate.
“When I was being recruited, I wanted to play in the ACC because I knew I would be facing the highest level of competition in the country,” said Beal. “I love playing against the best players I get up to face that kind of competition.
“Looking at our schedule before the season you couldn’t help but look at games against Santa Clara, Portland and Florida outside of the conference and I knew those teams would put a lot of offensive pressure on us and the defense would be responsible for stepping up to the challenge. That experience will help us because we were able to measure ourselves and see where we stack up. Those teams have been where we want to go.”
Beal was the only freshman starting in the back for the Seminoles and that can be tough when you face the nation’s premiere players in Aly Wagner, Jena Klugel, Abby Wambach and Christine Sinclair just to name a few.
“I think her confidence on and off the field is one of the things which makes her special and that helped her in facing the players we faced this season,” said Baker. “She is so composed and she exuded that on the field. She was composed in big games, in tight spaces and in crucial moments of games. She always did a great job of solving tough situations.”
When you are a rookie playing in the center of the defense, one would imagine that the nation’s top offensive players would actively seek out the freshman and try to exploit her. Beal isn’t sure if that actually happened but she couldn’t help wondering if that was the plan.
“I don’t know if teams targeted me early on because I was the rookie in the back,” she said. “When coach Baker goes over the opponent in pre-game, he talks about each player’s strengths and weakness and I always wondered if they were doing that in the other locker room and what they were saying about me. I am sure teams wanted to pinpoint me early on and their coaches told them to go after me to see what I could do. I guess that goes for any rookie that starts, though.”
According to Baker, if teams were going after Beal he didn’t notice it. Part of that had to do with the competition Beal has faced through out her career.
“I didn’t sense people were trying to run at her being she was an underclassman,” said Baker. “She has played at some of the highest youth levels possible and some of those environments even exceeded what she saw on occasion this year. I think she is accustomed to it because she has seen a lot of quality players over the years.”
HIGHS AND LOWS
Beal had more ups than downs in her first year of collegiate competition including memorable days versus Duke in FSU’s first-ever two-goal comeback win, a dominating performance versus Clemson in the NCAA’s and at Virginia where a jaw-dropping play she made in the first half really began to open people’s eyes to just how talented the freshman is.
After picking up a ball deep in the Seminoles’ half right by the corner flag, Beal had two Cavalier forwards immediately marking her before she ever had a chance to turn and face them. With her back to the pressure, the freshman made a quick turn to the inside splitting the two UVa players and began to make a dangerous run up the sideline and into Virginia’s defensive third of the field. It was just one example of the composure Baker said Beal plays with no matter what the situation.
“I sometimes surprise myself in those situations, I am like ‘Wow, did I just do that’,” said Beal. “Every single second on the field for me is instinct. I do what I have learned and what I know on the field and in those pressure situations I just kind of wing it and half of the time I surprise myself.”
The Duke game, which in many respects was a capsule of the defenses’ highs and lows, was one of the best games according to Beal even though the defense started off very slow. After falling behind 2-0 in the first half and not playing well as a group, the team made a dramatic turnaround in the second half led by the defense. The FSU defense shut Duke down and allowed their offense to get back to even before winning the match in overtime.
“We proved we could shut them (Duke) down and give our offense a chance to comeback and win the game for us which they did,” said Beal. “After giving up two first half goals, I think we proved a lot by keeping them scoreless through the second half and overtime. I think we showed everyone that we were not a group that gives up and that we can come back and respond to a challenge.”
Somewhat surprisingly, the most impressive game of the season for the Seminole defense came in a loss. Florida State was playing in Clemson with a trip to the Sweet 16 and the opportunity to become the first-ever squad to defeat Clemson twice in the same season at historic Riggs Field on the line. It was the most thoroughly dominant performance by the FSU defense all season with the Seminoles limiting the Tigers to one second half shot. They also held the high-powered Tiger forwards to just six shots between Lindsay Browne, Paige Ledford, Deliah Arrington and Heather Beem for the entire game.
The FSU defense rarely let Clemson cross midfield in the second half and held the Tigers without a shot for 31 minutes in the second period. Florida State allowed Clemson just one corner in 44 minutes and just one scoring opportunity in the entire half. Unfortunately, Clemson made that opportunity count.
“I think the loss to Clemson in the NCAA’s was so disappointing because it was a goal we should not have given up,” Beal recalled. “It came off of a routine cross after we felt we had been controlling the game for much of the day. It was hard to lose like that. If the other team takes a great shot or creates a really dangerous chance, I can live with that but that’s not what happened against Clemson. We played so well that day except for that one moment at the end.
“To know we finished the year playing the best game we played all season is gratifying. Coach always tells us we need to put together a complete 90-minute game and we hadn’t done that up to that point. Knowing that we put together a complete game versus a Top 10 team in the NCAA Tournament was really satisfying despite the loss.”
But with the lows also came the highs and for Beal that was the ACC Championship semi-final versus Virginia, which is located just 120 miles from her hometown. The Seminoles were fresh off of the school’s first-ever ACC Tournament win after downing Maryland 7-2 and faced the Cavaliers in an epic four-overtime battle that came down to PK’s before FSU earned its first ACC Championship berth against North Carolina.
“The Virginia game in the ACC semi-finals was one of my most satisfying moments personally,” said Beal. “I thought I played pretty well but it was a great moment for me because it was the total team experience. That makes everything worthwhile when you win as a team. That game was a 2?-hour battle. That was such a great moment for this program. I just wish we had a week to savor that before we had to turn around and face the Tar Heels.
“Just getting the experience of playing in an ACC Championship though was such a huge boost for this team. We expect to be back there again and now we have that experience of being there before. We have a little better understanding of what we need to do. Next time we will have a better understanding that every single moment of the game is important.”
It was another game versus Clemson however that Baker felt he really saw Beal begin to be the player she is capable of being. It was just the fifth game of the year and FSU had just come off two difficult losses to top 5 teams Portland and Santa Clara. With the team’s record standing at 2-2 with a road game versus their third top 10 team in a row on the horizon, the Seminoles were in danger of falling below .500 for the first time in more than a year.
“We were at a critical point as a team heading into the ACC opener at Clemson,” said Baker. “A loss against a third top 10 team in a week would have put us below .500 and I thought Katie stepped up in a big game and did a great job. From that point on she became more confident and played that way the rest of the year.”
When all was said and done, despite the disappointing ending, Beal was happy with her season individually. She felt she played consistently, which was something she wanted to do from the onset and the accomplishments of the entire team were even more gratifying but she never expected the onslaught of recognition she received once the season ended. It started at the ACC banquet when she was named to the All-ACC Rookie team and was followed just a few days later when she was named to the ACC Championships’ All-Tournament team. After that, her selection to the All-Southeast region third team and to ultimately being named a first team freshman All-American was overwhelming for the somewhat reserved 18-year old.
“Getting recognized for national awards as a defender is very exciting,” said Beal while staring at the ground somewhat embarrassed. “Defenders don’t typically get the offensive numbers and for me to just get a point this season was really exciting. A lot of great defenders never get any recognition but that is something that goes with the job and you know that going in. For me, individual recognition is not a big deal. I am very proud of the awards I received this season but those are not what’s important to me. I play for the team, not for myself. The awards are just an added bonus.
“There were so many great freshmen out there this season. Jessica Ballweg at Santa Clara is awesome. I was so surprised she wasn’t a first or second team freshman All-America. She won the National Championship and she is a great defender. Jamie Fabrizio is another great freshman defender and a player I have always looked up to. I thought she had a great season. On teams with great stars like Virginia and Santa Clara, those players sometimes get overlooked. On our team, we have so many really good players but we don’t have that one player that attracts all of the attention. I love being a part of that kind of team.”
With so many of the players she excelled against during her inaugural season being called in to national team duty, Beal naturally wonders if she’ll once again get the opportunity to play at that level. After being a U-16 national team player while in high school, Beal distanced herself from the Olympic Development Program (ODP) prior to college and she feels it might be one of the reasons she hasn’t been asked to participate again.
“In the sense of not being called up to participate with the U-19’s, I think I probably made a mistake by not participating with the U-19 ODP,” Beal said. “At the time I thought I needed a break before starting my college career but, in hindsight, it might have hurt my chances of being called up.
“Being a part of the National Team is something I will continue to pursue and it will be a goal of mine as long as I am playing soccer. It may be difficult for me to get back into the mix now because there are some fantastic players a year younger than me on the team. On the other hand, there are always new players being called up and hopefully I will get the opportunity.”
After working with the U-19 National Team on two occasions, including a stint at the most recent national camp, coach Baker believes Beal has the skill to be invited back.
“I think she has the ability to be in the mix with the U-19’s and it has been talked about,” said Baker. “Being her college coach, I may be a little biased but she is just an invite away. She is the type of player, provided that opportunity will make the most of it.
“She had a tough decision to make before coming to Florida State. She wanted some time off, which is something we preach to our players. She felt she needed to let her body recover from an intense two or three years of not only soccer but also basketball and field hockey. For us it was a wonderful decision because she was fresher through out the season due to that time off.”
Beal, although she is hesitant to look too far into the future, also has her sights set on the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA). Since the league first began play in 2001, collegiate players all over the country couldn’t help but look towards playing the game they love professionally in the US.
“I got to match up with so many players that will be going on to the WUSA like Abby Wambach and that was great for me,” said Beal. “Playing professionally is a goal I would eventually like to reach but I don’t like to look that far into the future. I just want to make it through the next three years and I am so excited for next season.”
Despite her excitement for the 2002 season which features home games versus Florida, North Carolina, Clemson, Virginia and Wake Forest, Beal is well aware that there is a lot of work to be done between now and then. She wants to work on developing quicker feet in the off-season while continuing to work on her overall defending. She also believes that decision-making is one area that you can never stop developing and the spring is going to be a time where she can focus on improving her agility.
Beal also knows that she and her defensive teammates need to get better collectively. In 2000, when FSU made its run to the Sweet 16, the defense allowed 31 goals in 24 games while the 2001 squad allowed 40 goals in the same number of matches. In fairness, the 2001 squad did play 16 games versus NCAA Tournament teams so a few more goals wasn’t totally unexpected.
“We return three of our four starters in the back and I believe we will only get better,” said Beal. “Our attitudes need to be tougher next year. We need to go into games determined not to allow teams to score. We all need to work on gaining that type of attitude. We gave up too many goals this season but were young and I know we will get better in the defensive third.”
WHAT I LEARNED
Even though she had so much individual and team success in 2001, Beal was still shocked by what it takes to play collegiate soccer at this level. With a fall sport, freshmen have little time to get accustomed to the level of the schoolwork and what it takes to balance that with a practice schedule that has the team on the field for almost 20 hours a week. Add that to a travel schedule that saw FSU play 16 games away from home including the ACC and NCAA Tournaments and it is almost unimaginable that Beal was able to earn her way on to the Dean’s List during her first semester of college.
“The biggest surprise to me this season was the amount of away games we played,” said Beal. “It was really hard to balance traveling so much with my schoolwork. It was the hardest thing I had ever done in my life but it was worth it. It was so different from high school. I don’t think people realize how hard it is. Practicing at such a high level that many times a week is a big change but in the end it was all worth it.”
One of the other challenges for any freshman athlete is that they really aren’t able to appreciate the success they have early in their careers. That applies even more so to the Florida State soccer program, which suffered through some very difficult years prior to the past couple of seasons. Before 2000, FSU had just one winning season and had won a total of three conference games in five years. The 2001 Seminoles exceeded that total in one season with a 4-3 conference record. Before 2000, Florida State had never advanced in the ACC Tournament. In 2001 the Seminoles went to the championship game. So it would be hard to blame Beal and her fellow freshmen for not grasping just how far the Florida State soccer program has come.
“I think I have been able to appreciate what we accomplished as a team this season,” said Beal. “Since I never experienced some of the tough times our seniors and juniors went through, our success this year in the conference was obviously more meaningful to them. All I know is that we were 4-3 this year and next year we are going to strive to be 5-2. Despite not being here for those tough ACC seasons, you could sense how important it was finishing third in the conference.”
Going 5-2 in a conference that sent seven of its eight schools to the NCAA Tournament and had four teams ranked in the top 12 of the final collegesoccer.com media poll would be unprecedented in FSU soccer history but that is the confidence Beal brings to the team and not being weighted down by what happened five years ago is something Beal and the new breed of Seminoles have brought to the program.
“I think we can consistently compete for the ACC title and eventually get to the Final Four,” said Beal. “All the pieces are in place here for that to happen. We don’t want to look too far ahead and end up falling on our way there but I definitely see it happening for us. It will take a lot of work from every single person but I believe we are up to that challenge.”