Sept. 25, 2003
Tallahassee, FL - While Friday night's ACC conference opener brings a new opening day opponent to Tallahassee, head coach Patrick Baker and the Seminole soccer team are looking for similar results. This is the first time in four years FSU (4-4-0) isn't opening ACC play versus Clemson as No. 14 Maryland (5-2-1) travels to town to open ACC action. It is the first time since 1995 the two teams have opened conference play versus one another. Despite the new faces, the Tribe will try continue their recent success as they attempt to start an ACC season with a win for the third straight year.
"Regardless of who you open ACC play with, it is very exciting because we all realize we are coaching and playing in the best women's soccer conference in the country," said Patrick Baker. "You are always going up against a well coached team who is more often than not nationally ranked. You have to play well to win, every time out. There are no freebies or gimmes in this conference. Every ACC team was in the Top 25 at one point or another last year. That speaks so much about the level of play in our conference."
The Tribe, which began ACC play in 1995 with a 5-1 loss to the Terrapins, had never won a conference opener before going to Clemson in 2001 and upsetting the ninth-ranked Tigers 3-2. The Seminoles then upset Clemson again to open ACC play last year with a 4-3, overtime win against the 17th-ranked Tigers. This year Maryland comes in to Tallahassee with a gaudy 5-2-1 record along with a national ranking of No. 14 as the Tribe attempts to open conference play by upsetting a top 20 team for the third straight season.
"I've always heard that the ACC is the best women's soccer conference in America and that the teams play a very pretty style of soccer," said freshman Toby Ranck. "Despite the quality of the play, I have been warned to expect the games to be very intense. All of the freshmen are really excited to play an ACC game because it was one of the factors why we all wanted to come to FSU."
"Maryland is tough and it won't get any easier the rest of the way either," said Baker. "This conference is full of teams that know what it takes to be successful."
The intensity level should be very high Friday night as the Maryland/Florida State series has been one of FSU's most competitive since Patrick Baker arrived in Tallahassee. Last year Florida State upset Maryland 1-0 in College Park on senior night marking FSU's first-ever three game winning streak versus an ACC opponent. The win was also FSU's fourth-ever versus any ACC team. The excitement was short-lived though as Maryland opened the ACC Tournament by eliminating Florida State on its own field and in front of a live television audience 4-2.
"They beat us fair and square on our field in the ACC Tournament last season," said Baker. "That was frustrating. You get so few opportunities to host a wonderful event like the ACC Championships and for us to put ourselves in the position to make a nice run but we don't even get out of the starting gate was disappointing."
Friday night's game will be the first taste of conference play for FSU's seven freshmen, three starters and four others that have played significant minutes this season. Many of their teammates are trying to pass along just how intense ACC matches are but until the freshmen step out, most of their teammates believe there is no way they could ever be ready for what they will experience.
"We try to prepare the freshmen by telling them every game in the ACC is like the toughest club game you have ever played versus your rival team every week," said Kristin Boyce. "There is not a single ACC game that isn't a big game. Every game with maybe the exception of North Carolina could go either way. It is the little things that make the biggest difference between winning and losing in conference games."
"Nothing prepares you as a freshman for an ACC game. This conference has the elite of the elite teams in the game," said sophomore Alli Ferreri. "When you start playing soccer in club and high school you can never anticipate the level of competition you see when you get into college and that is how it is with the ACC. While we have played some great teams this season, the level of play and intensity won't match what we will see Friday."
While FSU took its lumps at the beginning of the season in close losses to No. 7 Penn State (2-1), No. 23 USC (2-1) and No. 2 Florida (2-0), Baker scheduled those games with an eye on conference play. His hope was playing five nationally ranked teams in the first eight games of the season would be the best way to prepare his young Seminoles for the Atlantic Coast Conference.
"The schedule we have played up to this point has been tough but it was the best way to prepare us for Friday night and the ACC schedule ahead," said Camie Bybee. "Conference games are so different. As hard as it was facing Penn State, USC, and Florida none of those games compare to the intensity of an ACC game. Everything is a little more competitive, a little tougher and more heated. You have to step it up to win in the ACC."
Adding to the importance of winning a conference game is the fact that Maryland is one of just three home ACC games for the Seminoles this year. Winning games in your own stadium is vital. Since 2000 under Baker, the Tribe has a stellar 6-5-0 record at home versus ACC teams. But when they have gone on the road, the Seminoles' record since 2000 drops to 3-6-3.
"It is extremely important to try and get ACC wins at home because going on the road is so tough," said Boyce. "There is a mental edge I think we get by playing at home especially with the great Friday night crowds. They get us energized and pumped up to go. Playing well in those three home games within the conference will be vital to our success this year."
"Just like any year in the ACC, you have to protect home field the best you can. That is vital," said Baker. "In 2001 we were fortunate to do that but we didn't do as good of a job last season. Maryland is playing very well right now and we have to be ready."
Getting that first conference win of the season and particularly at home will be a huge confidence boost for an FSU team that started the season 0-3-0 but has fought back to .500 with a three game winning streak. It will also be huge considering the Tribe plays five of its next six games away from home after facing the Terps.
"It is very important for us to get off to a good start considering this is the year when we only have three conference games at home," said Bybee. "If we are fortunate enough to get a win Friday, we'll be able to go to Virginia next weekend with a 1-0 conference mark, which helps our confidence. Winning on the road in our conference is such a daunting task that it makes getting the W's at home even more important."
During FSU's three game winning streak, the Seminole offense and defense have come to life. The Tribe has scored 15 goals in the last three games as the scoring offense entered the top 25 in the NCAA statistics this week. The defense has cut its goals allowed in half during the streak as they have allowed less than a goal a game in the last three matches.
"We feel we are starting to turn the corner a little bit," said Baker. "Hopefully it is coming at the right time because we are starting a stretch of games that will be vital to us having a successful season."
For Seniors Amber Tollefson and Boyce, the 2003 ACC season offers them opportunities a senior class has never had the chance at before. The duo is 3-2-0 all time in games versus Maryland and 2-1 in conference games versus the Terps. A win would give them the opportunity to become the first senior class to ever graduate with a winning record versus Maryland. Overall, Tollefson and Boyce are 8-8-2 in ACC games and they would be the first class to ever finish their careers with a conference record above .500 if 2003 goes well.
"That is important to Amber and me but getting an ACC win wherever and whenever you can is more important," said Boyce. "There are no easy W's so we are proud of every ACC game we have won because those are huge."
Friday night's conference opener will be broadcast throughout the state of Florida on the Sunshine Network. It can be seen locally on Comcast channel 28 and will also be available all over the United States on Direct TV. There is no admission charge for the game and the Seminoles are counting on the students, community and fans to help push the Seminoles on to a victory. Last week the Tribe drew the sixth-largest crowd ever for a 7-1 win over Miami and the team is hoping to top that mark for one of only three home conference games this season.
For complete game coverage, Seminole soccer news and live stats for the Maryland match, log on to the official athletic website for Florida State University at www.seminoles.com.