Sept. 20, 2002
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. –
If you ever watch sports or have been involved with athletics you have undoubtedly heard the phrase “you have to play through the pain”. It is a nice theory but it is a lot tougher to do than say. That was the challenge Seminole senior Katie Talley faced every day for her first two seasons at FSU. The midfielder appeared in 18 matches her first season but injuries severely limited her effectiveness. As a sophomore she saw action in just eight of FSU’s 24 matches and spent most the year isolated due to a case of mono.
“The injuries are more mentally challenging when you are out on the field and not at 100%,” said Talley. “You have to tell yourself to suck it up and just do it but there are some things you can’t do to the best of your ability because your body won’t let you. That’s the most frustrating part.”
Coming into FSU, Talley was relatively injury free during her playing days at Harrison High School in Kennesaw, Ga. She came to Florida State with all the credentials of an ACC soccer recruit and was fresh off a trip to Nationals in 1999 with her club team. She had experienced some ankle and back problems but nothing severe.
“My injuries were off and on in high school but it never affected my play until I got to college,” she remembers. “Freshman year I came in and had back problems. We tried a lot of different treatments for it and some of them caused me to miss so much practice and game time. That took up most of the fall of my freshman season. I tried to play through that in the spring and be ready for the upcoming fall.”
Things didn’t get better though. After suffering another ankle injury right at the end of preseason in the fall of 2000, Talley seemed to finally be working her way back. Her ankle was recovering well and then she was sidelined again, this time for the entire season.
“I came back from that ankle injury feeling really good and just as I was starting to get back I was diagnosed with mono,” recalls Talley. “That kept me out until the very end of the season that fall.”
If you have ever had mono, you know that it just saps the energy out of you but that wasn’t the real problem. Mono causes your spleen to become enlarged and any contact could cause a rupture in a major organ. It is an illness that is very dangerous for athletes.
“Mono took away my whole season. It was devastating,” remembers Talley. “I did nothing the whole time I had mono. I couldn’t even come out and watch practice. You don’t really feel sick so you never actually believe you have it. You are tired, you want to do stuff but you can’t. It is just devastating. It is a serious and dangerous illness.”
Considering that Talley and the 2002 seniors came to Florida State at the lowest point in the history of the program, missing the 2000 season was incredibly tough. That year was the single greatest season in the history of the FSU program. The Seminoles upset defending National Champion North Carolina. They beat the Florida Gators twice, including a win in the NCAA Tournament that sent the program to its first ever Sweet 16. The team set almost 60 records and program firsts and Talley wasn’t a part of it.
“When I was battling mono I wasn’t allowed to be around the team,” said the senior. “It was so difficult. Especially in 2000, that was our greatest season ever. We beat North Carolina. We beat Florida twice. We went to the Sweet 16 and everyone got to share those memories together and make great friendships. I missed all of that. It is really hard to come back and find my place after that because I missed out on so much. I felt like I was no longer part of the team.”
Despite missing that magical 2000 season, it is still Talley’s most special memory. Being sidelined gave her a unique perspective compared to the other players, as she became more of an observer than a participant.
“Even though I was out almost all of 2000, that season is so special to me,” said Talley. “To see how we were my freshman year and that we’d never really been successful compared to just one season later was spectacular. Because I was sidelined, I got to watch it all and it was an amazing transformation to observe. To see how big our program got was awesome. To beat UNC, get to the NCAA’s and advance to the Sweet 16, it was a complete turnaround.”
Even though the 2000 season is still special to Talley, spending so much time dealing with injuries was tough for the Kennesaw native. She was often isolated because of her commitments to physical therapy, doctor’s appointments and treatment. Talley learned the hard way just how much it takes to get healthy again
“People aren’t around to see the amount of time and energy you invest in getting healthy,” she remembers. “It is hard enough to play and practice six days a week but it is even harder to not be allowed to practice and be around your teammates.”
Despite the challenges, Talley has always remained committed to soccer. Sitting on the sidelines while her team advanced to the Sweet 16 just made her even more determined to get back. She never thought of giving up once during those injury-plagued seasons.
“No way. That never even crossed my mind,” said Talley. “I have been playing soccer my whole life and I know things are never easy. Just because my body wasn’t cooperating with me that didn’t change my desire to want to play and be part of a team. I wasn’t going to give that up.
The midfielder is healthy now. She appeared in every match in 2001 and has been injury free through seven games in 2002, but getting healthy was just one of the obstacles she had to overcome. After hardly playing for two years she had to find where she fit on a team that was suddenly very successful. That is something that freshmen usually have to do but Talley was facing that challenge as a junior.
“Everyone understood why I wasn’t around but I still missed out on a lot,” she said. “It was harder to reestablish myself on the field with positions and playing time than it was to rebuild the chemistry with my teammates. We all get along so well so the personal friendships were always there. The chemistry on the field took some work.
“It was like I was a freshman again my junior year. Coach Baker had almost seen the freshman play more than he had seen me. I had been here for two years but had hardly played. While I was a junior in eligibility, I didn’t have those years of experience behind me due to the injuries. It was like I didn’t have any advantage over the younger players that usually comes from gaining experience in a program.
All her hard work behind the scenes has paid off though. Talley has found her place and is a regular in the Seminoles’ midfield rotation and is often the first player off the bench. She still battles her past injuries but believes she is better for the struggles.
“It is awesome to be healthy,” said Talley. “Ever since last spring I have felt great. I have done so much physical therapy to try and get my back strong. I haven’t worried about injuries and that has allowed me to concentrate on soccer and I think that is showing.
“I still have some problems with my back but I am trying to manage it and just play my best. I had a good spring my junior year and felt that I had found my place. Now here I am as a senior leading my younger teammates and doing well off the bench.”
But just being healthy has never been enough for Talley. The senior continues to do more individually in hopes of one day winning a starting job. She is very content with her role but that doesn’t mean she has lowered her goals even in her final season.
“It’s never been enough for me just to be healthy. I haven’t lowered my goals or expectations of myself,” she said. “I am thrilled that I can go out there and play. I come off the bench. I get good minutes but I still put in extra time doing individual training with coach so maybe I can win a starting job.”
Talley works hard to meet the lofty personal goals she sets for herself but that isn’t her only motivation. She doesn’t spend extra time training and working on fitness just so she can crack the starting 11. She does it for another reason also.
“I want to show my teammates that I will do anything it takes to help us win,” Said Talley. “I want them (my teammates) to know that I always give my all and send the message that they should never be satisfied with where they are. Strive for more.”
That attitude is now pervasive on this Seminole team. She isn’t sure was around before coach Baker’s arrival and that really speaks volumes about the turnaround this senior class has been such a part of. When these seniors committed to Florida State the program was coming off back-to-back losing seasons and was in the midst of a coaching change. According to Talley, so much has changed since 1999.
“There is a total different mindset in this program now,” said Talley. “Before, we weren’t willing to get out of our comfort zone to take that step to the next level. Players were comfortable in their roles and didn’t want to sacrifice that to make the program better. When coach Baker arrived he brought in the mentality that what we had done in the past was unacceptable. Everyday we take it a step at a time and work 110%. It has paid off.”
According to Talley, the turnaround of the FSU soccer program was spurred on by two major factors. First it was fitness. Under Baker the fitness level has gone up every year and that was something each individual had to overcome to make the team better.
“Since coach Baker arrived, we have always been as fit if not more fit than any team we play,” said Talley. “The level gets higher every season so we maintain that edge over the competition.”
Secondly, Talley attributes the newfound success to a new mentality. Her senior class is the first that will leave the program with a winning record over four years. Her class will be the first to compile three winning seasons in a four-year span and a lot of that had to do with a new outlook on how successful soccer could be at Florida State.
“Gaining confidence in practice was a key to changing the team’s mentality,” Talley recalls. “We gave each other confidence and it spread through the entire team. I think once the older players graduated they took the old mentality with them from years of losing. We weren’t used to losing and came into the program thinking we could win here. Eventually that mentality took over.
“I knew coming in that a program could change from year-to-year. Just because you go to a really good program that is no guarantee of success the next year but I never expected such a complete reversal of fortunes in such a short period of time. I thought that by my senior year we might be where we all wanted to be but no way in just one season.”
Now that she is in her senior year and the team has had such unparalleled success the last two seasons, Talley is turning her attention to leading a very young team. Despite the success the younger players have experienced, 17 of the team’s 26 players are freshmen and sophomores. Talley is taking it upon herself to set an example for that group.
“The younger players are used to FSU soccer being successful,” said Talley. “They need to understand that you just can’t come in and be comfortable with where this program stands. You always have to work because it is hard to continue that success from one season to the next. I realize that more than ever now that I am a senior.
“I heard that you get a special feeling as a senior knowing it is your last go round but you never can anticipate the way it really feels. I have that feeling now and it drives me to encourage everyone to want to give everything they have. When I am out there I give all of myself so everyone see that. They see how much I, and the whole senior class, care about this season. I want us to win but I also want it to be fun and enjoyable.”
She also believes she can lead because she has a perspective that the rest of her senior classmates don’t have. As a player who has always come off the bench, she believes she can set an example for those players who don’t start. Talley knows that it is tough to come to a program as a high school star and then have to see yourself as a role player. She is determined to not let that become an issue with her teammates.
“It is hard to see players not enjoying themselves and I think you see it mostly from players coming off the bench,” she said. “We all are competitors yet only 10 field players can play at one time. Practices are competitive and hard and when game day comes we need to be encouraging everyone whether we are starting or not. We are all on the same team and that is something that I think needs to be stressed. We have to be there for each other.”
With as few as 13 games left in her soccer career, Talley has some definite goals left to fulfill. Getting to a third straight NCAA Tournament is one of them but that is not enough, which in itself is a testament to how far this program has come.
“Making it to the NCAA Tournament is a goal of ours every year,” she said matter of factly. “I really want to get past the Sweet 16 because we have come so close but never been able to do that. We’ve had the chances but haven’t capitalized. That would be the perfect way to end my career.”
Whether the Seminoles get there or not, Talley and her four senior teammates will always take pride in their role in Florida State’s emergence on the national scene. With a three-year record of 38-26-4, two NCAA Tournament berths, a trip to the Sweet 16 and an ACC Championship final under their belts, this class will leave Tallahassee the most successful ever.
“We started out with 13 and we lost more and more of them every year,” recalls Talley. “Now I think we have the true five that came in and were committed to sticking it out. We have all had to deal with injuries or hard times but each of us has stayed with it. We stayed together and have developed great friendships.
“We think about how much has been accomplished in our four years because we know what it used to be like here. We have a sense of where this program was and are so proud of where it is now. It is awesome to know that this program is in better shape when we leave than it was when we arrived. To know we helped lay the foundation for a great soccer tradition here at Florida State is very special.”