Oct. 11, 2002
By Elliott Finebloom, FSU Sports Information
Senior striker Cindy Schofield came to Florida State as the all-time leading goal scorer in Florida high school history and the second all-time national high school goal scorer. After recording her 29th goal and 76th point against UCF October 4, she will leave FSU in similar fashion: as the most prolific offensive player to ever play at FSU. But her four-year trip from one record to the next has been anything but easy.
The Lakeland, FL native has dealt with more than her fair share of tragedy and pain and ups and downs since her first game in 1999. She had to overcome the death of her boyfriend in a tragic accident this past spring and watching her best friend and teammate Ali Mims break her leg just four minutes into the 2002 preseason. She has played with at least five different partners up front, she has been a starter, a reserve and a starter again. She had to deal with what she felt was a slow start to her career and the expectations that come with being a striker.
Through it all she has not only managed to play well but she has excelled. Last season she was named first team All-ACC, an honorable mention All-American, a two-time ACC Player of the Week, an NSCAA All-Region second team selection and a SoccerBuzz All-Southeast Region first team selection. She became the first Florida State player to ever lead the ACC in goals scored and she ranked in the top 30 in the nation for both points and goals. She was the only player in the ACC to appear on both of those lists. But if the recruiting process was anything like it is today when Schofield was a high school senior, she probably would have never put on a Seminole uniform.
During her senior year at George Jenkins High School, Schofield had taken just one recruiting trip in the fall. She didn’t even appear on FSU’s radar screen until after Christmas when Patrick Baker took over the program.
“Things were so different when I was being recruited,” remembers Schofield. “In my senior year of high school, I took one official visit during the fall and that was to Auburn. After Christmas, I played pretty well in the Orange Bowl Tournament and coach Baker had just gotten the job at Florida State and he saw me play. In the spring I took about six or seven more visits. That just isn’t done anymore because so many people have committed by Thanksgiving.”
The striker eventually narrowed her choices to UConn and Florida State. Connecticut wasn’t offering her a scholarship as a freshman or guaranteeing her any playing time her rookie year. Despite wanting to play right away, the decision was still a very difficult one.
“The two schools were so even in my mind,” said Schofield. “Connecticut was already a well-established program but I felt things could be turned around here. Playing time also factored into my decision. Like most young players, I wanted to play right away and I felt that my opportunity was better at FSU. As soon as I came to Florida State on my visit, I knew this is where I wanted to be. I loved it.”
At the time, Schofield felt she deserved to play immediately after all the hard work she had put in at the high school level. But looking back on it, she has a greater understanding and a more mature outlook on the situation.
“The UConn coach wasn’t going to offer me a scholarship as a freshman until he felt I earned it,” said Schofield. “At the time I didn’t like that idea but looking back I totally understand that now. It is a great philosophy. Kids need to come into school and know they have to work hard and if they do they will be a reward for their hard work. The way things are today, I’m not sure most schools would get any players with that approach.”
Schofield’s first two seasons were totally different than her high school career. When you score 238 goals, it has to be hard to look at your stats after two seasons and see that you have just eight goals in 20 starts but that wasn’t the case with Schofield. She definitely found the adjustment difficult but it wasn’t the lack of goals that bothered her.
“It was hard,” said Schofield. “It started with my first collegiate game at Florida against the defending National Champions. We got beat 5-1 and it was like ‘welcome to college soccer’. It was a totally different level than high school. I don’t think I fully understood what it took to succeed. I look back at it and it was a very difficult year and sometimes I don’t know how I made it through.”
After an 8-9-1 season where she scored three goals and made one start, Schofield rededicated herself. She trained extremely hard in the summer with her boyfriend Glenn Mendez in hopes she could help her team and make a bigger impact come the fall of 2000. She didn’t start the first five games of her sophomore campaign but went on to become a fixture in the line-up starting the last 19 games in a row. She more than doubled her point production and began to make the impact she had hoped she would when she arrived in Tallahassee.
“I hardly played in the season opener against Florida but by the time the season was over, I was starting and contributing,” she remembers. “That was awesome because I worked hard and it paid off. I didn’t take anything for granted because I earned that role.”
Then came the 2001 season. The striker had no idea what she was in store for when she opened the season with a two goal outing versus George Mason. By the time all was said and done, she had scored 17 goals, racked up 42 points and was setting records and winning awards that no other FSU player had ever won.
“I still look back on that 2001 season from an individual standpoint and I have no idea how I did that,” said Schofield. “Still to this day I don’t know how that all happened because it seems to be so much harder this year. I don’t know if the teams we are playing are better or what but it still baffles me. I know a lot of it had to do with my supporting cast. Without them none of that would have happened.
“I think I was helped by a great recruiting class in 2001. We had some great freshmen that picked up the entire level of play here. The team came together because we knew we had to replace Emma (Breland). When she didn’t return to school, nobody knew where the goals were going to come from but the goals came from the entire team. We stepped out and we did it together.”
With the records came the individual honors. Schofield became the single most recognized athlete in program history and she put a face on a team that was in the midst of rising to national prominence. It was a role she was never comfortable with.
“To be named a first-team All-ACC selection was unbelievable,” she said. “There are so many great players in the conference and so many wonderful players on this team that it makes it such a special honor to be singled out from amongst them.
“I never expected to be named All-ACC and I never expected to be named an honorable mention All-American either. I just wanted to help this team and it was hard to understand why I was singled out when all the success I had was due to a team effort.”
That has always been the way Schofield has approached her success. Goals are a product of every player on the field and when she is able to score them, it is just her way of helping the team. No more important than a big save or a great pass.
“Goals start from the back. If we defend well, we attack as a team,” explains Schofield. “Two forwards can’t score every goal. We need our midfielders and we need our backs to help to make the runs up. Ultimately they are the ones that make us go numbers up, which helps the forwards. If our team is together, that is when we score goals. It is a whole team effort because one player just can’t beat ten other players.
“The best thing about scoring is being able to reward your teammate’s hard work. It is so gratifying to know that if your team is doing well and you stick one in the back of the net, you do it for your team. It’s not an individual thing for me. After I score it is so much fun to run back and celebrate with your team. Everyone gets pumped up and that is the best part of scoring a goal.”
Conversely, there is a lot of pressure when the goals aren’t coming. Schofield knows that it is her job to get goals and when the team is playing well but the forwards aren’t putting the ball in the net, the pressure does build.
“The hardest part has to be the pressure to score goals. It’s definitely the pressure,” said Schofield. “When your team is playing well but you don’t score, it all comes back to us (the forwards). That is the hardest thing. You have to realize that you are going to have off days and then come back and work harder. You have to be patient. Staying with it and not hesitating are both important. If you have the same opportunities the next time out, you have to keeping shooting and not shy away.”
That, according to Schofield, is the key to being a striker. It always comes back to confidence. If she doesn’t have it, she knows how hard it is for her to do the job. Teams usually average a goal every ten shots or so over the course of a season so it is easy to see how quickly one could lose their confidence at that rate.
“Confidence a big part of playing the position, at least for me it is,” said Schofield. “It is so obvious when I am playing without confidence. I’ll look to pass and be more of a role player. I won’t do anything dynamic. Scoring is really the main way to regain your confidence.”
When she feels her confidence slipping, the striker has been able to regain it in small measures by playing good defense or making a great pass but when it comes down to it, she believes the only way to really regain that confidence is to score goals. Sometimes that means being selfish.
According to Schofield balancing when to make a pass and when to take the ball herself is one of the hardest lessons for a striker to learn.
“Playing up top is a balancing act. You have to learn when to play the ball and when to go one-on-one,” said Schofield. “Against UCF, Camie (Bybee) fed me the ball and was screaming for it back. I usually would play the ball back but for that moment I had an opportunity. I took it and was able to score. That is an example of trying to balance being unselfish against trying to do my job, which is to score goals. It is difficult to know when to pass and when to play it yourself.
“I think that just comes with experience. At this level experience is huge. I have learned a little bit about what it takes to get things done in this conference after three years of playing against the best competition. Being in every possible situation on the field has helped me mature. We have been down 2-0 to Duke and come back to win. We have been in front and lost leads. Those are the kind of situations that help you mature as a player.”
The hard work she put in working on her game in the summers had paid off but she had so little time to share it with the one person she credits more than any other for helping her succeed. Schofield’s boyfriend of two years Mendez, a former semi-pro soccer player, was there with her for every one of those summer workouts but at the highest point of her collegiate career she didn’t have him to share in her success. In February, Mendez died in a tragic skydiving accident in the Dominican Republic.
It’s been rough going. He had so much impact in my life. I had always known him. He played soccer with my brothers. He was there with me when I made my biggest improvement, so it was tough this summer not knowing what I was going to do.
Schofield talks about the tragic accident that took her boyfriend’s life.
“It’s been rough going. He had so much impact in my life,” said Schofield. “I had always known him. He played soccer with my brothers. He was there with me when I made my biggest improvement, so it was tough this summer not knowing what I was going to do.”
All of Schofield’s teammates and coaches were there for her during on of the toughest parts of her young life but the tragedy helped Schofield forge a new friendship. It was during that spring that she and sophomore goalkeeper Ali Mims became such close friends.
“We didn’t become that close until this past spring,” said Schofield of the friendship. “We lived together this past summer. We trained together and became really close. We have both faced obstacles and had huge fights but we always get through it.”
Their friendship was a surprise to Schofield who really didn’t know Mims that well off the field. The freshman keeper was making her way on her new team while Schofield was already an established player who hadn’t always reached out to freshmen.
“I think it started last year when we were on a road trip. She was going through a battle with Kerry (York) for a starting job,” recalls Schofield. “Usually I am really shy when it comes to talking to freshmen so I hadn’t spoken to her much before that trip. Then that night I saw her sitting outside of her hotel room and she looked pretty sad. I pulled her aside and we sat and talked for an hour. We found out that we had so much in common. We are so much alike but it was just a matter of taking the time to find that out. We hit it off.
“We both have a love for soccer that not a lot of people share. Some people love to play but wouldn’t want to watch a game on TV or sit in the stands. Ali and I will watch any game.”
The two formed a strong bond during off-season workouts. They pushed one another. Mims was coming into her sophomore season in a heated battle for the starting keeper job and Schofield was looking for a friend to help her get through a part of the year that she had associated with her boyfriend for the past two years.
Both came into the preseason with their goals set high and feeling good about the amount of work they had done for eight months in preparation for the 2002 campaign. The time had finally arrived as the Seminoles traveled to Athens, GA to open the preseason against the Georgia Bulldogs. Mims started the first of three periods and just over four minutes into the game she charged out to stop a Bulldog breakaway. After making the save, she lay motionless on the grass.
Mims was eventually carted off the field and taken to a local hospital by ambulance. She had broken her tibia and was lost for the season. Schofield could hardly concentrate on the game and finally got the word on how severe the injury was in the middle of the scrimmage.
“I think I cried more than she did that night. I was devastated when I saw her go down,” remembers Schofield. “I would do anything to take that pain away and have it happen to me instead of to her. It is so hard.
“I was in a state of denial when it first happened. When I heard her leg was broken in the middle of the Georgia scrimmage, tears just started rolling down my face. It was awful. It was a terrible feeling. I wanted to just leave and go see her.”
The senior got her chance to see her friend in the hospital later that evening. As sad as Schofield was, a strange thing happened to her on the way to the hospital.
“I went to the hospital and for some reason on the way to see her I got into a really good mood,” said Schofield. “I think I just wanted her to see me happy so she didn’t think it was so bad.”
That is how Schofield has approached the whole situation surrounding the injury to Mims. The sophomore not only broke her leg but also had complications during surgery that led to breathing problems that became very severe and even threatened her life. Mims recovered and is back in Tallahassee now and she is at every practice and game as a show of support to her friend and teammates.
“Every time I feel pain or want to complain about something, I just look at what she has gone through and ask myself how I can even complain compared to what she is going through,” said Schofield.
Mims has a long road ahead of her as she attempts to get herself ready for a return to the field in 2003. Although Schofield will have graduated by that time, she plans on doing everything she can to see Mims back in the goal.
“I told her that I will help her get back any way I can,” she said. “It has been tough because one thing or another keeps going wrong for her and that is delaying her recovery. I can’t wait for the worst to be over. It is hard to see her unhappy and in pain. I hate it and I would do anything to take that away from her.
“I know she will make it back, though. Coach (John) Galas told me that night that she is one of the few people who could have this happen to her and comeback to play and he is right. She has amazing willpower and an inner strength that will allow her to play again. She is a strong kid. I can’t wait to get back out on the field and help her get back as she helps me prepare for what I hope will be a career in the WUSA.”
Joining the women’s professional soccer league is something Schofield wants badly. She is hesitant to look too far ahead but it is a goal of hers and she is going to go after it.
“I want to be the first Florida State player to ever sign a pro contract. I think that would be awesome,” said Schofield. “I’m not ready to give up soccer and I can’t imagine my life without it. The opportunity to play professional soccer is unbelievable. Whether the league will be around for two more years or twenty more years, I just want to be able to say I did it. That would be enough for me.
“I obviously think about that as a goal but it doesn’t enter my mind when I am out on the field. I expect there will be a lot of coaches and scouts at the ACC Championships but even then I don’t think it will affect me on the field. There might be some pressure but right now I am just worrying about this team.”
When Schofield takes that next step in her career, she will go with a different perspective than the one she had coming into college from high school. Where she once balked at the idea of going to UConn and not playing right away she sees things a little differently now.
“I feel like I could be a good WUSA player with some experience,” she said. “I don’t think I could step in right now and play because the talent level is so unbelievable. Coming into college, it took a little time but I am playing well now. I think the same would happen in the WUSA.”
Judging by what she has done at FSU, there is no reason to doubt that.