Oct. 24, 2003
Tallahassee, FL - While those outside of the 14th-ranked Seminole soccer program might not have noticed it yet, the ACC is starting to take notice and see just how special Florida State's defense is this season. For a school record fourth consecutive time, the Florida State defense and goalkeeper Joy McKenzie (8-3-1, 4-0-1) shutdown an ACC offense. The Seminoles (10-5-1, 4-1-1), who recorded their fifth straight blanking in Friday night's 1-0 win over NC State (8-7-1, 1-5-0), are now assured of finishing no worse than third in the ACC and will finish the regular season with the best conference record in school history
"We were able to shutout a very talented NC State team tonight and set a record with four conference shutouts in a season. I would have never imagined that happening," said head coach Patrick Baker. "We have never been close to this kind of defensive success in conference play."
Despite holding a 32-4 edge in shots, a 14-2 edge in corners and an 11-0 edge in shots on goal, the Seminoles and Wolfpack played to a scoreless draw for over 60 minutes. But on a night when two of the most important seniors in program history were honored, a senior came through. Four-year starter and two-time captain Amber Tollefson scored the 12th goal of her career at 60:13 to improve Florida State's record to 9-1-1 in its last 11 contests.
"Tonight was really emotional and as time was winding down in the game I did want to step up and get something," said Tollefson. "I didn't care who put the ball in the back of the net we just needed a goal. That goal was a credit to everyone around me but it was special to get it on senior night. That one was for (injured teammate and fellow senior Kristin) Boyce."
"I am just so excited for her (Tollefson). It is hard to keep your emotions in check on senior night but I thought she had a great start to the game," said Baker. "For her to stick that crucial goal was remarkable. It was exciting for her and for the whole team. It was a historical night for our team and this program and she was the one that made it happen with her goal."
The win means the worst FSU can do in the conference is finish third with a 4-2-1 record. That mark is the best in the nine year history of the program and a third place finish ties the best finish ever equaling the 2001 team. That squad ended up playing for the ACC championship.
"This is such a huge win for us. Setting the record for the best ACC regular season is big," said Jez Ratliff. "Tonight couldn't have been any better with Amber scoring the game-winner and us locking up at least a third place finish. We have put ourselves in great position."
Friday night's win was historic in so many ways. The Seminoles, who have never lost to NC State at home (3-0-1), are now 4-3-2 all-time against the Wolfpack marking the first time in school history the Tribe has moved above .500 in the all-time series with any ACC opponent.
"We just want to keep closing the gap between us and the rest of the conference," said Baker. "We are so far below the Mendoza line versus so many ACC schools that it is just going to take time. We have slowly but surely put some wins together versus some quality teams. For whatever the reason we have just seemed to do well versus NC State over the years."
The victory also moves the Seminoles to 9-1-1 in their last 11 games and after a 1-4 start to the season, there is still a chance that the Tribe could head to Chapel Hill next week with the ACC regular season championship on the line. What makes the turnaround even more remarkable is that it has come against a schedule that is rated amongst the five toughest in the nation.
"The most amazing thing during this stretch is that we have had to make up ground by playing in the ACC," said Baker. "It is not like we started 8-0 going into conference play with a bit of a cushion. We were 1-4-0 and we dug ourselves a hole. We had to dig ourselves out of it and we have done it. We have done it by playing some of the greatest teams in the country. It is a remarkable compliment to our players who put us in this position at 4-1-1 in the conference. A lot of this has come due to the way we are defending as a team"
The Seminole defense kept alive all of its remarkable streaks Friday night. The team has not allowed a goal in a school record 470:27 and hasn't allowed an ACC team to score on them in 380:27. For the first time ever the Seminoles have recorded four straight ACC shutouts and five consecutive clean sheets overall. The Seminoles are just one shutout shy of equaling the total amount of ACC shutouts in eight previous years combined. They also lead the ACC in shutouts, one ahead of consensus No. 1 North Carolina.
"I think holding teams without a goal is becoming a mentality for this defense. We are getting used to it and we like it," said center back Katie Beal. "We aren't allowing teams to score in the run of play. We aren't allowing set piece goals, which was a big problem at the beginning of the season. Things have just come together for us as a unit."
McKenzie, who wasn't called on to make a single save Friday night, is in the midst of two of the most prolific shutout streaks in school history. She has not allowed an ACC goal in 465:22 and has not given up a goal to anybody in over 600 minutes. The Huston, TX native now has an overall GAA of 0.79 and an amazing ACC GAA of just 0.19. Most amazingly though, the Tribe defense has been able to add 200 minutes to both streaks with out four-year starter Boyce patrolling the left side due to a fractured ankle.
"Consistency in goal and sliding Kelly Rowland into the middle has made a big difference for us," said Baker. "Also having Marion Cagle and T (Teresa Rivera) step up when (Kristin) Boyce went down was huge.
"I think we took a big step when we shutout a nationally ranked Wake Forest team on the road for 110 minutes. T stepped in and played well. She is different than Boyce, she provides some different elements. We are still being effective and that was most important. This is just her second game and she will get better with some more time back there."
Rivera, the 2002 Gatorade Player of the Year from Florida, started 12 matches as a freshman last year. After being unseated by Kelly Rowland, Rivera's play at a new position has been a key for FSU and will continue to be if the Tribe wants to make another run at an ACC Title or NCAA Tournament berth.
"Nobody can fill Boyce's shoes. She is the heart and soul of this team," said Rivera. "She has also been so strong on that left side of our defense. It is difficult to replace her but I am trying my best to help this team win. Hopefully I won't be a disadvantage for this defense."
For the third straight game, the Seminole offense struggled to finish their chances. On top of their 34 shots last night, the Seminoles put 11 on goal. The NC State defense deserves a lot of the credit though for limiting FSU to one goal as they cleared three sure-fire goals of the line after FSU had beaten sophomore keeper Kim Selz. The Seminoles, who had the nation's 24th-best scoring offense just two weeks ago, have now tallied just two goals in over 297 minutes of play.
"We didn't live up to our potential as an offense tonight," said striker Leah Gallegos. "We got through the defense and got in time and again but we weren't putting it away. That happens sometimes. Yes we are concerned we haven't been scoring like we are accustomed to. When you go through a stretch where you are struggling to finish it just means you have to work a little harder at it."
The play of the Seminole defense has allowed the offense not to press too much because the front runners and wide midfielders know a 1-0 lead will stand up with the way the FSU backline is now playing. According to Ratliff, that makes a big difference in your approach to a game.
"The defense has been awesome and it gives the offense such a large comfort zone," said Ratliff. "We don't feel like we have to score a lot of goals like we did at the beginning of the season. This defense can make a 1-0 lead stand up and they are carrying this team right now."
On Friday night, the defense did just that in making a 1-0 score stand up. With less than 30 minutes remaining in the game Kelly Rowland came down to the far touch line for a long throw. She found Camie Bybee at the near post. The junior flicked the ball backwards and over the defense to the back post where Tollefson was waiting to stick the chance. The assist was Rowland's fourth of the year and all four have come off long throw-ins. It was also the second time these three players combined to score a goal. The trio scored an identical goal to put FSU in front of Ole Miss 1-0.
"We always work on that play in practice and it is a credit to Kelly Rowland that she can be so dangerous with her throw-ins," said Tollefson. "Camie (Bybee) had a great flick-on and I think my shot was probably deflected off their defender before it got into the side of the net. Camie always has great flicks. It was something we work on a lot and I am glad it paid off."
Tollefson had a great night for Florida State as she was able to keep her emotions in check and really came after the Wolfpack from the opening whistle. You knew it was going to be a special night for the senior when her first shot of the night came on a bicycle that just sailed over the crossbar seven minutes into the match.
"I think everyone came out with a lot of emotion tonight in that first 20 minutes. The whole team got caught up in senior night," said Tollefson. "There were some tears but we had to try and maintain a high energy level. There was a lot of positive energy and we were buzzing in the first 20 minutes. We were knocking it around and it was awesome."
The goal moved Tollefson into a tie for second place all-time in the FSU record books for career goals in conference games (six). It also moved her within just seven points of the career points record at FSU for ACC games.
Florida State's last home game of the season is the school's first ever meeting with Florida Atlantic. The game is scheduled for a 7:00 pm start Monday, October 27. The Owls are currently 13-3-0 and have shutout seven straight opponents. They play Troy State Sunday with a chance to clinch the top spot in the A-Sun.
For more information on either game please log on to the official athletic site for the Florida State University Department of Athletics at www.seminoles.com.