Oct. 27, 2006
FSU Sports Information
When Kelly Rowland came to Florida State University almost four years ago the Seminoles were coming off their best season ever. Florida State had just gone to the Sweet 16 and the team returned three of four starting defenders from a squad that allowed the second-fewest goals in school history. While Kelly was coming in with lofty credentials as an NSCAA All-Region first team selection, the Wallingford, PA freshman could never have seen her career unfolding like it has.
"I never thought I would be a four-year starter as a freshman," remembers Kelly. "I didn't even know where I was going to play on the field let alone start every game. I am so happy with the way my career has unfolded her at Florida State. I wouldn't change anything. I have no regrets."
Calling Kelly a four-year starter doesn't really do justice to what the senior has done in her career. Kelly has started every game played by Florida State over the last three-plus seasons. She holds the career record for consecutive starts with 86 entering the game versus Miami. She is a two-time captain and the leader of a team that has been to two College Cups in her career and achieved a number one ranking. Most importantly she has been on the field with her teammates every step of the way on this journey.
"Out of everything I have accomplished at FSU athletically, that is probably what I am most proud of. That shows a level of consistency. It shows that my teammates can count on me every day. They know I will always be out there. I am proud of that. I have been lucky to be healthy and it is a record I can look back on more than any other and be glad I own."
While Kelly cherishes the record that shows how consistent she has been over her four years, it isn't the only record she owns. In fact, she owns quite a few. Kelly is the most prolific scorer ever at FSU among defenders. She has more career goals, points, assists, game-winning goals and game-winning assists than any defender in school history. She is also the most honored player ever at Florida State no matter what the position. Kelly is the only Florida State soccer player to be named to a national team of the week more than 10 times in her career.
"As a defender your main priority is to limit the opponent's chances and stop them from scoring goals. Getting put in a position to actually help contribute with goals and assists is a great thing. I am happy to play that role if it helps the team win," said Kelly. "Stats are great but as a defender I value a shutout more than scoring. It is a nice bonus to my career to have those records but at the end of the day I would rather have a win and a shutout than a goal or an assist."
While she may hold a half-dozen or so records, Kelly has also been a part of plenty of wins and shutouts. Since she started playing soccer at FSU, the Seminoles have won 70% of the games in her career and recorded 36 shutouts. As impressive as those numbers are, Kelly can't help but remember some of the offensive highlights of her career.
When you talk about Kelly Rowland as an offensive threat you can't help but think of the amount of times she has scored big goals. In her three-plus season at FSU Kelly has scored 14 goals and recorded 17 assists almost half of those goals and assists have been game-winners.
Two games will always stand out for Kelly when she thinks about her offensive highlights. Both came her freshman year. The first was her two-goal performance versus North Carolina in the ACC Championship that the Seminoles lost 3-2. Rowland staked FSU to the lead twice in that match becoming the only FSU player to ever score twice in a game versus the Tar Heels, a record that still stands today. The other game came just a few weeks later as Kelly's first goal put the Seminoles up 1-0 on Florida in the NCAA quarterfinals. Florida State went on to win that match 2-1 and go to the school's first-ever College Cup.
"The Carolina game sticks out. Those goals were the result of me being in the right place at the right time. I was served great balls and was just able to finish them," said Kelly. "The other game that comes to mind is the Florida game my freshman year when we met in the final eight. That was a big goal. Once again I was the beneficiary of great play by the people around me. Anytime you can help the team win, be it by a shutout or scoring a goal that is something to be proud of. I have had some big goals but hopefully there will be a few more down the road."
Scoring big goals is a little strange for a player who has dedicated her college career to stopping players like Danesha Adams, Tiffany Weimer, Heather O'Reilly and Lindsay Tarpley from scoring but that is what Rowland has done. She is part of a defensive tradition at Florida State that started with Kristin Boyce in 2000 and has been passed along to Katie Beal, Teresa Rivera and then to Kelly. She will step aside this year as the next generation of great Seminole defenders continues with Sarah Wagenfuhr and Becky Edwards.
"Coming in as a freshman I had Boyce and Beal to look up to," recalls Kelly. "It means a lot to be grouped in with those players. They had such great careers here. Boyce was actually my host when I came on my visit here. It is special to be mentioned in the same breath as those two players. Defending has become something we have prided ourselves on at Florida State.
Rowland has been a huge part of contributing to the legacy of the Florida State defense. The program's rise to prominence began in the 2000 season with the arrival of Kristin Boyce. Since then FSU has established the six best defensive seasons in school history. Since Kelly has been here she has led a defense that has been better than the previous year for each of her three seasons.
"Coming in as a freshman it took some time to adjust to the college game. Things started clicking for me pretty quickly and as a group we became very hard to break down," said Kelly. "Being here for four years and being comfortable with the players around you helps create a better bond and team atmosphere. Getting comfortable with players is a huge part especially in the back. Also being surrounded by amazing players like Beal and Boyce as a freshman to (Sarah Wagenfuhr) Wags and Katrin (Schmidt) last year, it is amazing. We have been able to find a great balance in my time here. Credit for that has to go to all of our coaches."
Credit also has to go to her mentors. Kelly's freshman season she played in a backline next to Katie Beal and with Kristin Boyce and Teresa Rivera. It was four of the best defenders in school history all starting side by side for one glorious season that saw the team advance to the national semifinals and get just one win away from playing for a national championship.
"When I first came here playing with Beal and Boyce I didn't have to be the focus of the defense. I was a role player that year. I just went out and did what they needed me to do. I listened to both of them and tried to learn.
"I learned so much from Katie (Beal) because we played next to each other as center backs for two years. We played off each others weaknesses and strengths. We complimented each other very nicely. Beal was more of a quite leader. I took notice of that. I learned that you can lead without being in someone's face and yelling at them. She was an encouraging leader and I tried to take some of that from her. I think she helped people gain confidence and that is the type of leader I wanted to be. With Boyce, she was just solid. She was such a strong person and player. I wanted to be consistent because that's who she was."
Kelly has taken something from both of her mentors as a defender and as a leader. This season she was elected a team captain for the second straight year. It is a role she has grown into and one she takes a lot of pride in.
"Last year was a little strange being a captain as a junior," said Kelly. "I embraced the leadership role but this year being captain along with Colette (Swensen) is great. As a senior you realize it is your last go around and to have your teammates elect you is something to take pride in. Knowing they trust you to lead them and you are the person they believe can help the group be better is special. That is great way to know I left a mark off the field as well."
"I learned from Kelly that a captain is everyone's friend but a captain also has to know where to draw the line and separate getting things done while leading," said Colette." You have to keep everyone together because team dynamics can be very fragile."
It is a little hard to imagine a tough Philly kid is the one her teammates chose to keep the fragile team dynamic in order but while Kelly may play like that stereotypical Philadelphia player on the pitch, in her mind that is where the similarities end.
"It is funny that people picture me as the tough kid from Philly. When people first meet me I am not loud. I am more introverted and shy. People who know me are going to laugh when they read that," said Kelly. "Once people get more comfortable around you it pulls you out of your shell, but being from Philadelphia that perception of you will always stick."
Kelly has found the balance though from the tough kid on the field to the shy one off of it. Part of that transition is due to her role on this team. She knew if she was going to lead she would have to take some of what she is on the field into the lockerrom.
"This past year I have been put in more of a leadership role. You can't be in that position and be shy. There is a way to lead and a way to follow. Leadership styles are subjective. People react better to encouragement. When someone makes a mistake I don't think they need to be called out in front of everyone and making it even worse. They know they made a mistake and they feel bad about it. I never say anything to someone that I would have a problem with them saying to me. I am comfortable with the way I try to lead."
If you have been around Seminole soccer the last four seasons, it is easy to see why Kelly Rowland has been elected captain twice by her teammates. Whenever there has been any situation where the team needed someone to step up and either lead vocally or by example it has always been Kelly at the forefront.
In 2004 head coach Patrick Baker left Florida State to go to Georgia. It was a very tumultuous time for Florida State soccer. There was a lot of talk of players transferring as December neared and no new coach had been named. Kelly thought about going elsewhere to finish her career but when she decided to stay at Florida State and commit to the program and the school and not to a coach, it set an example that her teammates followed.
She is once again leading by example this season. After making almost 80 straight starts as a defender, Kelly has been asked to switch positions and play in the Seminole midfield and up top. It should have been a difficult transition for a senior who will go down as one of the best to ever play her position at Florida State. Kelly didn't complain. She didn't argue. What Kelly did was what she has always done and that is accept whatever role will help her team win.
"Freshman year I kind of came in as a center mid player like almost everyone does. I was just happy to get on the field. I didn't care where I played," she recalled. "I started at outside back and then got moved centrally.
"I have talked with Mark (Krikorian) about wanting the team to be successful and putting me anywhere on the field that will help us become a better team. I am more than willing to try anything out. Having such great players like Sel (Kuralay) and India (Trotter) in the midfield makes me so much more comfortable there. My mentality is to get in there and do the best I can wherever that is. I am not the most technical or skilled player in the midfield but I will work the hardest. It is interesting to be moving around my senior year but I like it right now. If I am helping this team get into a better position to make a run at a championship I am more than happy to do it."
Winning a championship is still the one piece of the puzzle missing for Kelly. She has been to more College Cups than North Carolina in her four years at FSU and she has played for an ACC Championship but she and her teammates have never lifted a trophy. As far as Florida State has come as a soccer program, the school still seeks it's first-ever championship of any sort.
"We have been so close to a championship so many times. This being my senior year it is definitely in the back of my mind. I am going out every game playing with everything I have to try and get that championship. There is no point not to. I don't have that many games left in my career and I want to make the most of it. The team all knows this and is all together. Being one of the final four teams playing is great but we want to get that first-ever championship and I think this year is our best chance to get it."
If anyone is going to find a way to will her team to a championship it will be Kelly. Everyone who has played with her knows she has the heart of a champion and just needs the trophy to go with it.
"On the field she is a warrior," said six-year senior Ali Mims. "Anyone who knows her knows she will fight until the end. I am so glad she has been my teammate. She deserves everything she gets because she works so hard everyday."
Maybe that hard work will pay off in a championship for Rowland because that would mean Kelly truly got what she deserved.