Jan. 9, 2004
Tallahassee, FL - Last year was quite a year for Florida State head soccer coach Patrick Baker. He led his Seminoles to the school's first-ever College Cup. He took his squad to its fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament and second ACC Championship final in the last three seasons. He and his wife Kelly had their second child and he coached his first-ever second team All-American in Leah Gallegos. He also guided FSU to a consensus top five ranking. As big as 2003 was though, 2004 got off to a pretty impressive start also when Soccer America, the country's most-respected soccer publication, named Baker their 2003 national coach of the year Friday. This is the fifth year coaches' first national coaching award. In 2001, he was SoccerBuzz's runner-up national coach of the year and he has been named a regional coach of the year on three occasions during his 15-year career.
"I'm flattered that Soccer America feels we did such a good job this fall," said Baker. "I would like to thank their staff for bestowing this great honor on our program. My players and assistants deserve all the credit and they were absolutely marvelous throughout the entire season. It is an honor to be a coach here at Florida State University and it was a very special season for everyone involved."
Baker is also a candidate for the National Soccer Coaches Association of America's (NSCAA) national honor by virtue of leading his team to the 2003 College Cup. In 1991, Baker was named the NSCAA's Division III South Region Coach of the Year while leading North Carolina-Wesleyan to its first of three NCAA Tournament appearances. He has also been named SoccerBuzz's Mid-Atlantic Coach of the Year in 1997 after winning the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) at Penn.
"In a very short period of time Patrick Baker has molded our soccer program into one which competes near the top of the national pyramid in women's soccer. Being named National Coach of the Year is another clear indication that people who follow the sport across the nation are recognizing the outstanding job he is doing," said Florida State Director of Athletics Dave Hart, Jr. "We are very proud that Patrick Baker is the head women's soccer coach at Florida State University."
"Coach Baker was probably the main reason I committed to Florida State because I knew that he was going to take this program to the next level," said US U-19 National Team player India Trotter. "That belief paid off right away as we made it as far as the program has ever gone this year when we reached the College Cup. He has so much knowledge about the game and holds such high standards for the players. He really believes in us and I think that comes out in our play. He recruits players not only for their soccer abilities but also for the people that are off the field, which helps create such good team chemistry. I think that ultimately helped us get so far. He's a great coach and he's the reason why we've been so successful this year."
The 2003 season was the culmination of four years spent rebuilding a struggling program but it didn't take Baker long to turn the Seminoles into a national power. Since 2000, his second year on the job, the only ACC school to record more wins than FSU is 2003 National Champion North Carolina. Baker and UNC head coach Anson Dorrance are the only two current ACC coaches to lead their team to two of the last three conference championships and who have also lead their team to a College Cup. Nationally, Baker is one of just eight coaches to take his team to three of the last four Sweet 16's and among that group, FSU is the only school that made it's first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance during that four year span. Only three other teams in NCAA Tournament history have compiled more wins in their first four NCAA Tournament trips than Baker's Seminoles and FSU is now third all-time in wins per NCAA Tournament appearance.
As much as Baker had done in his previous four years at Florida State, the job he did in 2003 is being recognized as his best yet. After taking a program that was a perennial cellar dweller in the ACC and leading them to three straight NCAA Tournaments, two Sweet 16's and an ACC Championship Final in 2001, Baker's 2003 squad was his youngest to date. On opening day 2003 FSU started four first-year starters and six players with just a year or less college soccer experience. On top of that, Baker had just two seniors on the roster. The youth of the team showed early on as Baker's Seminoles fell to 1-4 after facing four 2003 NCAA Tournament teams in the first five games, three of which advanced to at least the Sweet 16. From that point on, Baker turned his squad around and their run to the final four was one of the best stories in college soccer last season.
After starting 1-4, Baker's squad finished the regular season going 10-2-1 and finished second in the ACC with an all-time best mark of 4-2-1. During that 10-2-1 run, the Tribe set records for ACC shutouts (4), ACC shutout streak (447:34) and overall shutout streak (633:34). The team allowed just five goals in ACC play, the third-fewest allowed in conference history. Most impressive though was how Baker turned his team around against one of the most difficult schedules in the country. During the Seminoles' 10-2-1 run, FSU played eight NCAA Tournament teams and the three other squads that combined to go 33-21-4 [FAU (16-4-1), USF (8-8-2) and NC State (9-9-1)]. Not a single team the Tribe faced during that stretch had a losing record and the Seminoles' only setbacks came in one-goal losses on the road at North Carolina and Virginia.
"No matter how low we got at that point, coach Baker continued to display so much passion for the game that we couldn't get too down on ourselves," said U-19 US National pool player Julia Schnugg. "He continually pushed us and believed in ourselves. His support on and off the field meant so much. He continued to find new ways to make us better and his mentality spread like a wildfire through this team."
Baker and the Seminoles entered the ACC Championships with the highest national ranking in team history at No. 6 (Soccer America) and they were a consensus top 12 team either breaking or tying their highest ranking ever in all four polls. The Tribe traveled to Cary, NC as the No. 2 seed and they proved they were every bit worthy of that lofty seeding. The Seminoles won two games (2-1 over Wake Forest and 1-0 over Maryland) at the ACC Tournament for the first time ever in advancing to the team's second final in three years. While his first ACC title eluded him again, Baker's squad played Carolina to the closest ACC final in 15 years, became the first team to score on UNC in the final since 1996, the first team to score on UNC twice in the final since 1994 and they even lead at 1-0 and for over 23 minutes at 2-1.
The success at the ACC Tournament highlighted the biggest change in the program since Baker's arrival. What he has done versus the ACC has been nothing short of miraculous. From 1998-2000, FSU posted a 1-9-2 regular season record versus Maryland, Clemson, Duke and NC State. In the last three years the Tribe is 11-0-1 against that same group. In the 90's, FSU had a .107 winning percentage versus the ACC, since then Baker has posted a .537 mark and has quadrupled the Tribe's ACC wins in 12 fewer matches. Due to Baker's efforts, FSU is now at .500 or above in the all-time series with two ACC schools, something that didn't seem possible considering FSU's three all-time conference wins coming into the 2000 season.
"He (Baker) has always put a premium on ACC games. We used to be at the bottom of the conference and coach Baker has taught us to keep fighting. He has instilled in us not only to play like champions but to practice that way as well," said senior captain Amber Tollefson. "I think, most importantly, he taught us how to prepare for those games. He taught us to prepare for every ACC game like it was the final four. He pays so much attention to details and prepares us so well. He is the most intelligent coach I have ever played for and that shows leading up to games.
"If you can thrive in the ACC, you are probably one of the top teams in the nation. That's why coach Baker has always put a premium on those games. Historically ACC teams are the best in the nation. That was apparent this year. We had our best conference season ever and I think that gave us the confidence to make that run to the College Cup. He has brought this program to new heights inside and outside of the ACC and is so deserving of this recognition."
Despite the team's second one-goal loss to the Heels, the NCAA Selection show lifted the team's spirits when they were awarded a national seed (No. 11) for the first time in program history and named a host site for the second year in a row. The Seminoles received a lot of praise during the ESPN selection show as Soccer America senior editor Scott French said, "You look at Florida State. Florida State is playing wonderful soccer right now. They gave Anson (Dorrance) and North Carolina quite a bit of problems in the ACC Final. I say watch out for Florida State." He went on to predict: "I think it will come down to UNC and Notre Dame. I think North Carolina will prevail. I think UCLA and Florida State will be the other two teams in the final four." With road tests at No. 6 seeded West Virginia and third-seeded Florida on the horizon, the prediction would be a tough one to fulfill.
After a record-setting 5-0 win over Dartmouth and the Tribe's third straight NCAA Tournament victory over Auburn, the Seminoles were back in the Sweet 16 after a one-year absence. The Tribe traveled to face sixth-seeded West Virginia. The Seminoles had never advanced into the Elite Eight and had never even scored a goal in a Sweet 16 match. It took Kelly Rowland about 14 minutes to end one of those streaks and an epic battle ended with an FSU goal in double overtime with just 22 seconds remaining on the clock.
The Seminoles faced a familiar foe in the NCAA quarterfinals as they took the short bus ride down to Gainesville, FL to face the third-seeded Florida Gators. The Seminoles had already lost to UF in their first meeting of the year (2-0) and were facing a Florida side that was unbeaten in their last 19 home games and had lost just 11 times in 105 games played in Gainesville. That didn't seem to bother Baker's Tribe though as they put together one of their most dominant performances of the year and surged out to a 2-0 lead over Florida. The Gators added an 88th minute goal but it wasn't enough to keep Baker and Florida State from its first-ever College Cup.
Florida State's run to the College Cup shouldn't have been a huge surprise since few teams have adjusted to life in the NCAA Tournament as well as the Seminoles. In just the programs fourth ever trip to the NCAA Tournament; the Tribe has already been to the Sweet 16 twice and now their first ever College Cup. Only eight of the 297 schools that sponsor Division I women's soccer had been to three of the last four Sweet 16's and FSU is one of them.
The Tribe under Baker is one of the more remarkable postseason stories. The team is 9-4 all-time in their four NCAA Tournament appearances for a .692 winning percentage. In fact, Baker's NCAA winning percentage is higher than his all-time FSU winning percentage (.615), which just goes to show how much he has excelled in the postseason. Florida State's nine wins in their first four NCAA trips ranks third all-time for wins in a team's first four trips to the NCAA's. Only North Carolina and Notre Dame have more victories in their first four postseason appearances than FSU. In every one of those categories FSU now joins the ranks of North Carolina, Portland, Santa Clara, Notre Dame and Florida when it comes to postseason success. The only thing FSU and Baker can't boast is a national title, yet.