Aug. 27, 2004
Tallahassee, FL — The last time FSU stepped on to a soccer field in a game that counted was December 5 in Cary, NC at the College Cup. Tonight the fifth-ranked Seminoles take the field with the singular goal of ending the season in the same place except this time holding the trophy when all is said and done. The quest for that National Championship begins at 7:00 p.m. at the Seminole Soccer Complex versus No. 14 Arizona State and while expectations are high, every player and coach knows the trip back to the final four won’t be easy.
“It will be very challenging to get back to the College Cup,” said head coach Patrick Baker who is entering his sixth year at Florida State. “At times it can prove to be very difficult. To get to the point where you finish second in the best soccer conference in the country, to get back to the ACC Championship game, to return to the NCAA Tournament and get into a position where you are playing for the right to get back to the final four is difficult. Not only because of the competition but people see us in a different light this year, right or wrong. On the flip side, our players came back in better shape and at a better playing level than ever before. On paper, this is probably one of the best if not the best team ever put together at Florida State University.”
“A lot of people know we reached the final four last year and there are a lot of expectations about us getting back there,” said sophomore Kelly Rowland. “We always feel like we have a target on our backs and we put a lot of expectations on ourselves. We are going to work hard to reach those goals.”
Florida State has established a lot of expectations for themselves but there are plenty from outside of Tallahassee as well. The team was picked second in the preseason ACC coaches’ poll and the Tribe is a consensus top seven team in the preseason polls. None of that is going to matter though as soon as the Seminoles step out against a very talented Sun Devil team.
“We have the utmost respect for Ray (Leone) who was formerly at Clemson and the job he has done at ASU,” said Baker. “He inherited a program that was at a similar stage as our and he has put them in the national spotlight. They are a hungry team. They have been eliminated by Santa Clara the last two years and I believe if they had a different match-up they would have advanced much further. We will have our hands full.”
“We are going to have a better idea of what Arizona State does before game time but we have a lot of respect for them,” said Bybee. “They are a fixture in the top 25 and have had great NCAA Tournament runs. Anytime you play a Pac-10 team you are in for a fight and we know that will be the case this weekend.”
On top of worrying about ASU, fresh in the mind of FSU players is the way they started the 2003 season. Just like 2004, the Tribe entered the year with its highest-ever preseason ACC ranking and its highest preseason ranking. The team then got out to a 1-4 start and needed to go 12-2-1 to resurrect their season. This year’s squad wants to avoid a similar start against the Sun Devils.
“There will be a lot of eyes on Tallahassee this weekend for all of our games but the match-up with Arizona State will be one that teams across the country look to on opening night,” said Baker. “We were young in key positions last year and that contributed to our start. Now those players are veterans and hopefully that will allow us to get off to a better start.”
“It is important to start the season off right,” said senior Marion Cagle. “Last year we were 1-4. We want one of those special seasons. We have accomplished so many things but we have never had that 16-2 regular season or gone 15-3. That is a goal for us and if we could do that it would send a message that last year’s run to the final four was no fluke. We will try to start that this weekend against two great teams.”
The Tribe returns 10 players that started in the College Cup and the offense returns virtually in tact. The 2003 Seminole offense was the best in the history of the school. The team set records for points, points per game and goals last year. The 2004 group could be even better. For the first time in school history, the Tribe enters a season with three of the top five career goal scorers on the roster. All four of FSU’s top point producers are back this year and three players with 50 or more career points are on the 2004 roster and that is also the first time that has ever happened. In just two preseason games, six different FSU players recorded at least one point.
“I think having Jules (Julia Schnugg) and Leah (Gallegos) together for the second year will help us offensively,” said captain Jez Ratliff. “We have never had as much consistency from one season to the next as we have this year. Our forwards have been constantly playing together for over a year now and that will make them even better. We are playing in a formation we are used to and with a group of players that are used to one another so I think this offense is going to be fun.
“I have always felt we have a lot of players that score. We have a star in Leah (Gallegos) but we also have a lot of other players that can contribute. That is a great aspect of this team. If opposing teams want to focus on Leah, we have players that can hurt them. They can’t watch everybody and that will be a key for us.”
Gallegos will key the Tribe offense and the soft-spoken junior enters 2004 as a preseason All-American and a member of the MAC Hermann Trophy watch list. She will be the focus of opposing defenses and the expectations that are being placed on her shoulders are equal to those that are surrounding the team’s success.
“All the awards and preseason accolades are such an honor but my focus is all about my team, winning a championship and just taking it game-by-game,” said Gallegos. “I will focus on each day and lean on my teammates all season long. They are the reason I have had any success.”
The Friday night soccer game at FSU has become a special event. Since Baker took over the Seminole soccer program in 1999, FSU has lost just one home game on a Friday night (16-1-2) and is 5-1-0 versus ranked opponents on a Friday night at the Seminole Soccer Complex. The Seminoles are also 22-2-3 since 1999 at home under the lights and FSU is 9-2-0 at night against ranked teams at home.
A big crowd is expected for the home opener and crowds of 1000 or more are becoming more common for a Florida State team that has been to four straight NCAA Tournaments, three Sweet 16’s and a College Cup. One of the reasons fans keep coming back is that every time FSU has played at home in front of 1,000 or more fans on a Friday night the Seminoles have won. With the win over Dartmouth in the 2003 NCAA Tournament, FSU moved to 8-0-0 all-time when 1,000 fans show up on Friday night. It will be a particularly special opening night for the six seniors who will have those opening night jitters for the last time in their careers.
“We are all really excited,” said senior captain Katie Beal. “It is always special when we put on the white uniforms and step out on a Friday night. It is a special feeling that you can’t really anticipate until it happens. It is nice to play a game that actually means something. We all have in the back of our minds the way we started off last year. We want to start this season with a win.”
On the other hand, eight FSU freshmen will get to experience that feeling for the first time. While they played in a scrimmage versus a highly ranked Tennessee team, upperclassmen are preparing the group for a totally different atmosphere and feeling tonight.
“It is extremely different,” said sophomore India Trotter. “Even though this is just my second year, you can feel the difference of having one year under your belt. You know what is expected of you now and maybe you were a little unsure of that as a freshman. I am telling this year’s rookies to expect a great crowd and expect to be nervous. You are always nervous the first game underneath the lights. Once you start playing you get over it.”
“It is becoming real to me,” said rookie Libby Gianeskis. “Preseason scrimmages just don’t have the feel of the regular season. Then you walk into the locker room and see your name on your locker. It hit me that it is really starting. All the hard work everyone put in hopefully will pay off. I am thrilled to finally get the season going.”
Tonight’s game will be available free of charge vial live stats and Internet radio exclusively at seminoles.com. There is never any charge to attend regular season FSU soccer games in person at the Seminole Soccer Complex. For more information visit the official athletic website for Florida State University at www.seminoles.com.