Nov. 4, 2006
Cary, NC - Here we go again. For the 20th time in its 12-year history, the Florida State soccer team will face off with the premiere program in the sport. Sunday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. the sixth-ranked Seminoles (14-2-4) will face-off with No. 1 North Carolina (20-1-0) for the third time in six seasons in the ACC Championship title game as FSU continues to chase the school's first soccer championship of any sort in school history.
"Winning the first title in program history is definitely something in the back of our heads but we are more focused on playing our game," said senior Kelly Rowland. "We need to have some fight in us to compete with Carolina. If we play the way we know we can, we will give ourselves a chance to bring home the first trophy ever for FSU soccer."
The Seminoles have played the Tar Heels more times than any other school over the last 12 seasons. The meetings used to be between the last seeded Seminoles and top-seeded Heels in ACC Championship play. Things have changed recently as Florida State has become a player on the national stage. The last time the teams met it was a battle between two top five squads, the time before that the Seminoles and Tar Heels played in the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals. Since 2003 the two teams have played three times for the ACC Championship and once for the right to go to the College Cup.
"Playing Carolina is always exciting," said Rowland. "You come to Florida State to play against the best in the country. Playing against one of the best teams in the NCAA will be another great test for us."
The last time Florida State tested itself versus North Carolina came in September when the top-ranked Seminoles came into Chapel Hill to take on the fourth-ranked Tar Heels. It was the first time the teams played when FSU was ranked higher and it was the first meeting between the schools since FSU eliminated Carolina from the 2005 NCAA Tournament. UNC got a measure of revenge via a 2-1 victory as Heather O'Reilly scored the game-winner in the 84th-minute.
"Every time you play Carolina the first time you see them you are in awe but the second time around you are better prepared for the pressure they bring and the way they play the game," said Rowland. "They will come at you 100 miles per hour all game. For our younger players it is good for them that they have seen UNC once already. Any experience you have versus Carolina can only help. Hopefully that will help us be better prepared to deal with them."
"Any time you play Carolina you don't only need to bring your `A' game but you have to play with a lot of heart," said India Trotter. "You better be prepared to work hard. We will need to execute our game plan if we want to have any success."
Trotter scored the lone goal for FSU in the last meeting between the teams. It was the third straight game in which she has scored versus the Tar Heels. Trotter is the first Seminole to ever score in even back-to-back games versus the Heels and she is Florida State's all-time leading goal scorer versus UNC.
"I honestly can't explain that," said Trotter of her goals versus North Carolina. "All I hope this time around is that somebody scores. No matter who it is. I just want us to get one goal enough for us to win."
Scoring goals has been a struggle at times for Florida State in 2006. The Seminoles played to their fourth scoreless draw of the year in the ACC semi-final versus Wake Forest and the team has been shutout in two of their last three games.
"You can't win games without offense," said Trotter. "With the job we have been doing in the back all season though if we could get on the board early that could be a key to upsetting Carolina.
The job the Seminole backline and goalkeeper Ali Mims have been doing has been the key to the team's success in 2006. The Seminoles have allowed just 12 goals while recording 12 shutouts this year. The 12 clean sheets in one season are a new school record. Florida State has recorded four shutouts in a row dating back to the worst defensive showing of the season. Following a 3-1 loss to Duke in Durham, FSU has shut out every opponent since then. Florida State will enter Sunday's game with North Carolina in the midst of a shutout streak of 403:38. This is the second-longest shutout streak in program history.
"I think our concentration and our alertness in defending has to be as good as it has been the last four games if not better," said defender Sarah Wagenfuhr. "We allowed a few chances versus Wake Forest but nothing came out of them. We have to do a better job of minimizing the few chances we have been allowing. We are doing an excellent job in the back of constantly being aware of where we are as a defense and keeping teams off the scoreboard.
"We have to be better Sunday versus North Carolina or they will put the ball in the net. We have done a great job all season of shutting down opponents but Carolina is always the ultimate test. We have to step up our game and it is an exciting challenge."
This is just the second time any current Seminole player has played for a title. The current crop of FSU seniors have been to two College Cups in their careers but the last time they played a game with a championship on the line was their freshman season. In 2003 FSU and UNC played for the ACC Championship in a classic battle that was tied 2-2 until an 86th-minute penalty secured the title for the Heels.
"For me I am trying to approach this as I would any game," said Wagenfuhr. "The stakes are higher. You just have to remember it is only a game and you can't let nerves get the best of you. We need to play the way we know we can. Everybody is excited about the chance to win an ACC Championship. This is the reason we all play the game."
The ACC Championship game can be seen live in Tallahassee at 3:30 p.m. on FSN Florida. Live stats will also be available via GameTracker. For more information on how to follow the Seminoles, please log on to the official athletic website for Florida State University at Seminoles.com.