Sept. 27, 2001
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. –
The rivalry between Florida and Florida State is one of the great traditions in college athletics but when one team has won every meeting and outscored its opponent 18-1, how intense could the rivalry be? That was the history of FSU/UF soccer before the 2000 season. Last year, Florida State began the Gators’ season with a loss and ended it with a loss in the NCAA Tournament lighting a fire under a rivalry that has always been intense but not always competitive. For the first time in the history of the series, No. 12 Florida State (5-2, 2-0) comes into Friday’s game ranked ahead of the 20th-ranked Gators (3-2-1).
“This is about as big as they come on a regular basis,” said head coach Patrick Baker. “It’s probably the biggest game on the schedule. It may not have been in year’s past but after what happened last year it probably is. For us to just make those games competitive last year was huge. It is really nice that it is two nationally ranked teams and the game has gained a lot of national exposure. They have been in the spotlight for so long and the fact that the game is important is a feather in our cap.”
Friday’s game in Gainesville is the biggest road test for the Seminoles in 2001. FSU is 1-2-0 on the road this season with both of those losses coming at a neutral site against No. 5 Portland and No. 10 Santa Clara. Florida State did win its last road game though when they staged two comebacks to down then-No. 7 Clemson at Riggs Field.
“You can’t explain to anyone what it is like to step on that field for the first time,” said Baker. “I don’t think you can ever really prepare for what you face when you go down to Gainesville. I remember my first game as FSU coach was against UF after their National Championship season. There were almost 4,500 fans and it was crazy but I turned to my coaches and said this is the environment I want to be in. We wouldn’t have drawn 4,500 fans in 18 games at Penn so to exceed that in one night was awesome. That is what it is about. We drew unbelievably well for them last year and I am sure they will draw unbelievably well for us. That is a selling point for our program. It is exciting. This will be the biggest road test of the year so far.
“I think we will get a lift from what happened in the road game at Clemson. Certain things have to happen for us within the game like they did last season. We’ve got to defend well. We have to keep their personality players in check. We aren’t going to lock them up and throw away the key but we just need to contain them. They have better players than we do. I hope for 90 minutes we can collectively be the better team.”
The Seminoles had never fared well in Gainesville before last season’s NCAA Tournament game. In the team’s first three meetings at Percy Beard Stadium, the Gators went 3-0 while out scoring the Seminoles 15-1. Florida State started to reverse that trend in the round of 32 of last year’s NCAA Tournament with a 2-1 win that advanced FSU to the Sweet 16 and with that game, the Gators have posted just a 2-3-1 record at home.
“Playing in Gainesville is tough,” said senior Heather Dyche. “As an opponent, it is probably one of the worst places to play in the country. The fans are great and the sheer number that show up just to cheer against you makes it a tough place to play. It is a great environment for a soccer game.”
Florida State has had the upper hand in the series of late. The Seminoles stunned the Gators and the soccer world with a 3-2 opening night win at the Seminole Soccer Complex to start the 2000 season. The Gators came in to the match ranked as high as sixth in the nation while the Seminoles had never been ranked in the history of the program. The win began a season of firsts that catapulted FSU into the NCAA Tournament and eventually a rematch with the then 11th-ranked Gators in Gainesville.
“I think what made the games bigger was where Florida was when we opened the season with them last year,” said Baker. “They were ranked No. 6 in the country and were just a year removed from a national championship. We had only ever scored one goal against them and then we upset them on opening night. They didn’t have two All-Americans that night but they got them back when we traveled to Gainesville for the NCAA Tournament. They rightfully felt that with two of their best players back that they were going to advance past us but by then we were ACC tested. We had beaten some other very good teams including North Carolina. We didn’t have the same uneasiness we had when we opened the season with them that day.”
Florida Sate traveled to Gainesville to face almost 1,800 Gator fans and played on a field where a national championship banner was hanging in what was just the second-ever NCAA Tournament game for the Seminoles. An early goal gave FSU the edge it was looking for against its rival from the south and Florida State went to win the match 2-1 and advance to its first-ever Sweet 16.
“The rivalry has always been intense but over the past year it has become ever more so,” said Christy Peacock. “After we had some success against them last year, there is even more pressure on us to do the same thing again. We have to step up, come together as a team and beat them as a team. Florida is up there with North Carolina and Clemson and those are the teams we strive to beat.”
US National Team player and Hermann Trophy finalist Abby Wambach leads Florida offensively and is off to another great start. The senior has 10 points on four goals and an assist despite missing time due to National Team obligations. She combines with Andi Sellers who has six points on three goals. Florida is outscoring its opponents 14-7 and has scored three or more goals in four of six games this season.
“They are a very good team and they are very well coached,” said Baker. “They have personality players across the board. They have two of the top forwards in the country. I mean who wouldn’t want Wambach and Sellers on their team? They are young and talented in the midfield and I think they have really shored some things up in the back. They have great players anchoring the center of their defense and you can tell they just have a different mentality this year. They are getting great senior leadership and Jordan Kellgren is doing a great job in goal.”
The Seminoles have bounced back after dropping two games against two of the nation’s best teams at the Wake Forest/Nike Invitational. Florida State has gone 3-0 since then including two ACC wins that have vaulted FSU into sole possession of first place in the conference for the first time in school history. Oklahoma freshmen Camie Bybee and Jez Ratliff have led the Seminoles offensively over that stretch combining for four goals and four assists. Combined with three assists from senior Maren Vik Edvardsen and two goals from sophomore Amber Tollefson, FSU posted nine goals this past week.
“We are going to have our work cut out for us but that’s no different than how it was last year,” said Baker. “We hope that we continue to find ways to win and make strides to play better soccer. I think we have this week.
“We have to stay in the game. I thought that was one thing that benefited us tremendously in the NCAA Tournament game. We scored and they had to respond. We scored again and they were forced to respond again. We just happened to hold on and get the biggest win in our program’s history. We can’t go down and expect the same things. We would like to recreate some of the positive things from that day.”
The game marks the first match for the Seminoles against an in-state rival after posting a perfect 8-0 record against teams from Florida in 2000. Florida Sate out scored its in-state opponents 24-8 last year and will look to extend a 12 game winning streak against foes from Florida that dates back to the first part of the 1999 season.
“It is a bit unrealistic to think we could repeat the same success we had against teams from Florida last year,” said Baker. “Seven of our eight games against those teams were at home now seven of the eight are on the road. It is going to be tough and this is the start of a really tough stretch of games on the road. We are going to have to prove our worth on the road and there is no bigger and better environment to do that in than Florida.”
NOTES: Florida State soccer will be featured Monday, October 1 on ACC Live, which airs at 6:30 p.m. on the Sunshine Network. The show will examine the Seminoles 2-0 conference start and take a look back at FSU’s magical run to the Sweet 16 in 2000…due to a miscommunication, it was incorrectly reported that the Sunshine Network would broadcast Friday’s game against Florida. Although the game will not be broadcast on television, there will be live audio and live scoring updates available over the Internet courtesy of Gatorzone.com. Links for those web casts are available below.