June 26, 2002
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. –
Florida State soccer head coach Patrick Baker sat down with seminoles.com to reflect on this past spring’s campaign and look ahead to what he expects from his 11th-ranked soccer team this fall. The Seminoles are coming off their most successful regular season, ACC season and ACC Tournament run in team history and the 2001 Seminoles established 74 program firsts and individual and team records. Over the last two seasons, Baker’s squads have established 132 new records and program firsts. The team has been to back-to-back NCAA tournaments, went to the finals of the 2001 ACC Soccer Championship and finished in the top 20 the last two years.
The 2002 season features 12 home games including home matches against the top four teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference last season. Florida State will also play host to Florida, Oregon and Oregon State to name just a few. The Tribe completed a perfect home schedule in 2001 as they went 10-0-0 in Tallahassee and have won 11 straight home matches dating back to 2000. Florida State has also won 17-straight non-conference games at the Seminole Soccer Complex dating back to August of 1999 and the season-opener versus Miami. It has been almost three full seasons since FSU lost a home match to a non-conference foe.
In this candid interview, Baker touches on what he felt the team got accomplished this spring, where he feels the team has improved and why he is so excited looking ahead to the 2002 season.
What did you accomplish during the spring season?
I felt this was our best spring ever as far as player, positional and team development. In the spring of 1999 when we took over the program, there was so much time spent trying to find out who we were. I’d never seen us play so it was very different.
The players have been really dedicated and they competed hard every single day. We learned a lot of valuable lessons on and off the field this spring that made us a better team and ultimately a more mature program.
Head coach Patrick Baker
Then in 2000, I thought we made tremendous strides in the spring that led to that magical fall season. Last year, we had the departure of assistant Lauren Cyran and the birth of my first child, so I felt like I had no control of our 2001 spring. This year was totally different. There has been continuity in our staff. The players have been really dedicated and they competed hard every single day. We learned a lot of valuable lessons on and off the field this spring that made us a better team and ultimately a more mature program.
How much competition is there amongst this team considering the last two recruiting classes you brought in were both ranked in the top 15 in the nation?
I think this was one of the most competitive springs we’ve had partly because we went with a little bit of a different approach than we have in the past. The players responded to an ultra competitive training environment and embraced a new system of play. Katie Talley moved from a wide midfield position and played up top for most of the spring. Marion Cagle started for us in Portland the last weekend. New players cracking our line-up are pushing other players to step up. These players replaced players who started for us in the fall and now you are 13 or 14 players strong. When you have that kind of a mix, and you are 13 or 14 players strong. Add to that our goalkeeping situation, which is just so exciting. We have two extremely talented young keepers now and the future is very bright for both of them.
That is quite a change from last spring when you played with a field player in net.
Having a field player in goal for the entire spring last season wasn’t easy. Especially when we played Florida, UCLA and USC to name a few. Having these young keepers this year and getting them exposed to the likes of Washington, Oregon, the Canadian U-19 team and Tennessee is just a great experience for them. They had the opportunity to play good, solid minutes against quality opponents.
The team looked confident this spring, more so than in past seasons. Is that a fair assessment?
We as a staff, hope that the players are gaining confidence in each other and as a team with each season. This team needs to be confident in the fact that we have a good team, we have talented players and we know how to play the game. When we play to our abilities a lot of good things can happen on most nights. That is probably something we were still a bit unsure of last fall. Are we good enough? I think we proved we were. I don’t want this team to be arrogant but I think we need to have a silent confidence about us every time we step out as a team representing Florida State. We need to have the confidence that we are a very good soccer team and have been fortunate enough to be in the top 20 the last two years. As I share with the team every year, things will change and are they ready to make that move into the top 10. I think if we keep working the way we have been, we will progress in the right direction and hopefully advance further in the NCAA Tournament.
Was there any particular player or facet of this team that stood out during the spring?
Probably the player who had the best spring season was Jez Ratliff. Jez is a young lady that worked extremely hard on her game.
Every Tuesday afternoon she came out for individual training. She really wanted to stretch the limits of her game and did through hard work. I believe she gained an inner-confidence as each week passed. She scored in every spring game except FAU and Washington where we were held scoreless. It is so exciting to see her development and more importantly, just to see her put that time and effort in and see her confidence rise. It gives her a wonderful platform as we go through the summer and head into the pre-season.
The dynamic of this team has changed so much. This year’s senior class went 9-10-1 in its first year and has had nothing but success since then. It is the first time that you have a team that isn’t carrying around the baggage from some of the low points in program history before you arrived. How do you fell that will influence this year’s team?
The 2003 senior class came in at the tail end of a down point in our program’s history and ultimately finished the regular season their freshman year at .500. Every team that beat us in 1999, except for Miami, went to the NCAA Tournament. So we felt like we beat the teams we should have and we just weren’t ready yet to make the next step into the tournament. That group, as sophomores, played a key role in the success we had in turning the program around in 2000. My goal, and hopefully the goal of the entire team, is to send this senior class out on the highest note in program history because they have been here for the integral period in FSU soccer.
On top of that, you have a great deal of key players who are now sophomores and juniors that have known nothing but winning seasons, top 20 rankings and NCAA Tournaments. That must help the mentality of this squad.
When you think of that sophomore group and players like (Kristin) Boyce, Amber (Tollefson) and Summer (Corum) you have one of the best defenders in the country and two wide midfielders are very dangerous. Then you add in freshmen Katie Beal, Camie Bybee and Jez Ratliff who garnered All-ACC Rookie Team honors, which was the first time that has happened in conference history. All three of those players start straight up the middle of the field in addition to a freshmen in net, either Kerry (York) or Ali (Mims) now you are talking about seven of your starting 11 who have made major contributions over the last two years.
Add in the year Cindy Schofield had leading the ACC in goals scored and placing second in the conference in points. Then there is the development of Ashlee Fontes, Meredith Jones, Katie Talley and Jenny Garcia and it is very exciting when you look ahead to the fall.
Considering last years seniors and the positions they filled, it must be a nice feeling to know that you don’t have key holes all over the field that need to be filled. There are a few but you return eight starters.
After we concluded our spring season in Oregon, I was able to see half of our recruiting class for next year play within a week’s time. It was great for me to see them play because I had seen our team day-in and day-out for so long. Watching this incoming class play just made me think that if I thought the spring was competitive, it will be nothing compared to what is going to take place this fall. I think we will not only put out a starting 11 that is the best we have ever put on the field but also we will have our best team from top to bottom that we have ever had at Florida State.
How many positions do you think will be up for grabs this fall when you get the full team together in August?
The past two years we have started four freshmen each season. Ideally, I would love for our seniors to continue to build on their hard work this spring and would love to see Fontes, Jones, Garcia, Schofield and Talley have solid pre-seasons and solidify those open spots. On the flip side, we have some very talented young players coming into this program that we recruited to make us a better team both immediately and down the road. I think it will be interesting to see what kind of statement our veteran players make coming into pre-season and also how quickly the freshmen adjust to college soccer and college life. The quicker they can make that adjustment, the sooner they will find themselves on the field. Ultimately, the quicker they make that adjustment, the better off we will be as a team overall.
One of the things you have always prided yourself on is the way your teams play defense. In 2000, the squad gave up the fewest goals in Seminole soccer history but last year with a freshman keeper and some inexperience in the back the team allowed more goals than I know you would have liked. Was that a focus of the spring?
There was definitely a focus and a premium placed on better team defending this spring after what happened during the fall. We won games in 2001, we had our best regular season ever, advanced to the ACC Championship final and went to another NCAA Tournament but looking back we gave up some goals that we shouldn’t have.
This is the most excited I have ever been about a season. Not only based on what we were able to accomplish in 2001 but I really believe there are a lot of positives happening within our program.
Head coach Patrick Baker
Part of the problem stemmed from our mentality and we tried to develop a different mentality this spring. After the spring Texas trip, we saw that start to pay off. At the all Florida event, we gave up no goals and scored eight. Then in 180 minutes, we shutout Team Boca and a Tennessee team that was in the NCAA Tournament last season. As talented as the Vols are up front, to hold them in check for 90 minutes was a step in the right direction. Washington outclassed us a bit and they were the better side but we responded by putting six goals past a good Oregon side in just 70 minutes and that sends the right message. I thought the defending was better but it will still be a focal point for us in the pre-season. It will be key for us to improve on the effort from last season rather than digress like we did after 2000. Defending becomes so key in the postseason and if we want to make a strong push at the end of the year we will have to defend better.
You did some experimenting this spring with different alignments. Instead of the 4-4-2 that you have used since you have been at FSU you tried playing three up top at times. Was the experimentation something that might carryover into the fall?
I think it was beneficial to play in that alignment at times during the spring. Last season, we found ourselves in some situations where we had to switch to three up front and we really weren’t accustomed to it. Every time we went to a three-front last fall, we didn’t gain the attacking presence I would have hoped and we ended up giving up crucial goals. We know it is a risk and that you do sacrifice some defense but I believe we had the talent and capabilities to do better in that formation than we were. Being that we can’t play three in the back, it was evident to try out a 4-3-3. I thought it was a very good experiment for us and we played 4-3-3 predominately throughout the first half of the spring. Our forwards gained a better understanding of how to operate in that system and our midfielders got a look at how different their roles are in that alignment. The one thing that didn’t change was the four in the back but we did hear that our defenders really enjoyed having the time and space in front of them. We gained confidence in that system and if we do need to utilize it we have laid the framework and foundation this spring so it won’t be a totally new experience to our players. We just need to refine it throughout the upcoming preseason.
As you work your way through the summer, how excited are you for the fall campaign?
This is the most excited I have ever been about a season. Not only based on what we were able to accomplish in 2001 but I really believe there are a lot of positives happening within our program. Add on what I believe will be another top 20 recruiting class, 12 home games, our role as the host of the 2002 ACC Soccer Championships and this has the potential to be a very exciting season for us. That is unique because I don’t believe we have ever had this level of excitement within our program at the end of a spring season like we have right now.