Nov. 14, 2002
Tallahassee, FL – After the excitement died down from making the 2002 NCAA Tournament and also being named a host, the 21st-ranked Florida State soccer team (11-6-3) began to focus on their opponent and they are impressed. The University of Mississippi (13-4-2) is having the best season in the nine-year history of the program and when they step out Friday night at 7:00 p.m. they will be experiencing NCAA Tournament play for the first time ever. But if you think that is an advantage for the Seminoles, you need only think back to 2000.
In its first trip to the NCAA Tournament, FSU not only won its opening round match but they advanced to the Sweet 16. They won on the road in Gainesville and set a new standard for Florida State soccer. The Rebels hope their first trip to the dance is no different.
“Ole Miss has been building up to this moment and it has finally come for their program. This is an exciting time,” said head coach Patrick Baker. “It is a great time for them. They are a very talented team. They understand their roles and how to be successful in the framework of their team.”
“Experience gives us an advantage to some degree. We know what it is like to be in the NCAA Tournament. We know how to prepare and what it is like in a different environment. I’ve told our freshmen that it is an experience you have to go through. That doesn’t mean we will win the game but hopefully it gives us an advantage leading up to the game and in the opening moments of the match after that it probably won’t be a factor.”
Friday night’s game features some intriguing match-ups. The Seminoles main concern will be firming up their defense in hopes of controlling SEC Rookie of the Year Kelley Renie. The Carmel, IN native has scored 18 goals this year and tallied 39 points. She was second in the SEC in both goals and points and she has scored nine of Ole Miss’ 13 game-winners.
“Renie is a talent,” said Baker. “Anytime you are recognized as the Rookie of the Year from a conference like the SEC, that speaks volumes. All you have to do is look at the players who have won that award before her and it reads like a who’s who of women’s college soccer. She is another addition to that fine list of players.”
“I don’t think there is any formula to slowing down a great scorer like Kelly Renie,” said 2001 All-Region defender Kristin Boyce. “You just have to have an awareness of where they are. It is a mindset really. She has 18 goals this year, which is very impressive but we have to rely on the fact that we have played against great forwards this season both in and out of conference.”
The Seminole defense has a tradition of raising its level in the NCAA’s. Both goalkeeper Kerry York and the FSU defense have improved on their 2001 seasons and the group has proved they can step it up in the NCAA Tournament. In 2000, the group allowed just four goals in 270 minutes of NCAA Tournament play. Last season, three of FSU’s 2002 starting back four were part of a defense that limited Auburn and Clemson to just one goal in 180:00 in the NCAA’s. On top of that, York enters the postseason with a GAA of 0.00 in 90:00 of tournament action.
“It is so important to us to raise our game to another level defensively in the tournament,” said Boyce. “We are the last line of defense in front of Kerry (York). When something goes wrong we know that it can affect the whole team. We have to be very solid and do the little things so everyone on this team can do their jobs with no worries about what is happening in the back.”
“In any game we have played this year, when we defend well a lot of other things take care of themselves. That’s the bottom line,” said Baker. “It’s not just our back four, although that is an emphasis. We have to defend well up top and in the midfield. When it gets to our backline and our goalkeepers, they have to make plays. That is what it comes down to. I firmly believe that. The emphasis coming in is have we worked to clean up everything defensively.”
Combined with its success in previous NCAA Tournaments, the Florida State defense will draw on its experience versus some of the nation’s top strikers that they have faced in ACC play over the past three years. This year alone, FSU has seen the likes of Deliah Arrington (Clemson), Alyssa Ramsey (North Carolina), Lindsay Tarpley (North Carolina) and Casey McCluskey (Duke). That group has combined to score 55 goals this season.
“We came into the week knowing we needed to clean some things up defensively,” said senior defender Ashlee Fontes. “We have tried to get to know Kelly Renie’s tendencies but playing in the ACC is probably an even bigger help. Playing against the best strikers in the nation on a week-to-week basis will help heading into Friday night’s game. We feel like we can play against any forward because we have seen so many great ACC players.”
If the Seminoles are successful in dealing with Renie, their next challenge will be to try breakdown a stingy Ole Miss defense and stellar keeper Brittany Gillespie (13-4-2, 1.05 GAA). The Rebels have allowed just 20 goals all season long and Gillespie comes into the match with 7.5 shutouts this season. Only two teams this year have scored more than two goals against Mississippi. Florida State, on the other hand, has scored three or more goals in seven of their last 14 matches.
“We feel like we can score goals. We have proven that every day of the season,” said Baker. “If we defend well, we create good chances for our personality players and good things happen for us.”
“We have been working all week getting ready for the challenge the Ole Miss defense will provide us,” said freshman Alli Ferreri. “We have scored on great defenses this year so it is just a matter of finding a defense’s weakness and trying to exploit it. Hopefully that will be the case Friday.”
As much as FSU will have its hands full with Renie, the stellar Rebel defense should have just as much of a challenge controlling All-ACC first team forward Cindy Schofield and 2002 ACC All-Rookie Team member Leah Gallegos. The two starting strikers have combined to score 20 goals this season with 19 coming in the Seminoles’ last 14 matches.
“We have been scoring goals all year so I believe we can continue that but their defense and keeper will be among the best we’ve seen,” said Schofield. “I think we have finally figured out what works best for us offensively. Leah (Gallegos) and I understand each other more now. The addition of Alli (Ferreri) has been very positive. Having Jez (Ratliff) out wide has been a good transition. We have been throwing different things at different teams and it is working”
A late season switch that moved Ratliff to her natural position in the wide midfield and consequently brought Ferreri into the rotation up top has paid dividends for FSU. In their first game at their ‘new’ positions, Ferreri scored the first goal of her career and Ratliff recorded two assists in a 5-1 blowout of then-No. 19 NC State in Raleigh, NC.
“I think both Jez and I are now more comfortable at our natural positions,” said Ferreri. “Jez brings a lot more speed to the wing than I did and now we both feel we can make more things happen.”
In addition to Gallegos and Schofield, Florida State has other reasons to be confident in their offense. Since being shutout by Oregon State in an opening day 0-0 tie, FSU has scored at least one goal in 19 straight matches. That streak is the second longest of any team from the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Conference USA, PAC 10, SEC and WCC, which supplied 37 of the 64 2002 NCAA Tournament teams. The Tribe’s 19 game run is one more than the combined streak of the top three seeds in the 2002 NCAA tournament. No. 1 UCLA (7 games), No. 2 North Carolina (5 games) and No. 3 Pepperdine (6 games) have combined to score in 18 consecutive matches. The only team from those major conferences with a longer streak this season is No. 4 seed Connecticut who has scored in 21 consecutive games.
Another reason FSU is optimistic is that they start five players who have accounted for 71% of the team’s all-time NCAA goals. Boyce, Amber Tollefson, Schofield, Summer Corum and Camie Bybee have tallied five of the Tribe’s seven NCAA goals and two of those players, Corum and Bybee, have been responsible for game-winners.
“Players who have scored goals for us in the NCAA Tournament are still with us and are a big part of our program,” said Baker. “They have found ways to stick the ball in the back of the net. They have done it, they have visualized it and they have seen it in our highlight videos at the end of the season. They know how to do that. That is another advantage and we will rely on them to step up, create chances and score good goals.”
When Florida State takes the field Friday night they will be playing at the Seminole Soccer Complex for the first time since losing the ACC Tournament opener to fifth-seeded Maryland. After going 8-0-0 at home last season, the Seminoles have posted a 6-4-2 record in Tallahassee, FL this year and that is something they will look to rectify Friday night.
“We have a lot of confidence entering the NCAA’s,” said Ferreri. “The ACC Tournament was kind of a reality check for us. We feel like we have something to prove. We re-evaluated things and I believe we are a lot stronger today.”
Despite the four losses, the Seminoles will open the tournament knowing that they have not lost a home game on a Friday night since Baker took over the program in 1999. When FSU plays at home on a Friday night, they are 11-0-2 in four seasons.
Tickets for Friday’s session (both games) and Sunday’s session (one game) are currently available. They can be purchased at the FSU Athletic Ticket Office at Doak Campbell Stadium, ordered over the phone at (850) 644-1830 or 1-888-FSU-NoLE and can also be ordered on-line at www.seminoles.com. Tickets for adults are $7.00 per session. Tickets for students, children 3-18 and seniors (over 50) are $5.00 per session and children under the age of two will be admitted at no charge.
For the latest information on the 2002 NCAA Women’s Soccer Tournament in Tallahassee, please log on to www.seminoles.com and visit our NCAA Tournament site. There is information on all four teams, live stats links, selection show video, rosters and much more.