Sept. 5, 2003
Tallahassee, FL - When it comes down to rivalries, Florida State/Florida is among the nations best. While most of the attention is usually focused on the gridiron battle, any time the Seminoles and Gators meet, it is intense. That has especially been the case between the state's two top soccer teams the last three years. The game has never been played in front of less than 1,000 fans and the average crowd has been over 2,200. The Tribe has had the better of the series since 2000 going 3-1 versus UF but the Gators still hold an all-time 3-6. The games are always physical, the atmosphere intense and the bragging rights huge.
"I didn't know about the rivalry last year coming here from California. It was nothing like I imagined," said sophomore Leah Gallegos.
"It is a battle. It is always a battle. It isn't always pretty soccer and I expect that to be the case this time too," said senior co-captain Amber Tollefson. "That is one of the things we will try to impart to the younger players. The rivalry brings an intangible they didn't experience last weekend versus USC and Penn State. This is a whole new game."
Adding to the drama is the fact that Florida opened the season with wins over No. 11 Penn State (1-1-0) and No. 16 USC (1-1-0). The upsets vaulted the Gators, unranked in two of the four preseason polls, to three top 10 rankings. No college team vaulted further in the polls last week than UF did. The two Florida wins came against the same schools that helped to start FSU's season at 0-2 for only the second time ever.
"I think Florida felt like we did after the first three games. They could as easily be 3-0 or 0-3. They got their two wins and beat two very talented teams that we couldn't beat," said head coach Patrick Baker. "We feel like we got better each game. Our players are still confident in what we are capable of becoming as a team.
"We feel like we improved Sunday and we have continued to work and refine things this week. We have to step out Friday and show that we are better than we were Sunday. It is about playing well but also getting a result. That's what we have to do. We didn't get a result last week and we are going to try our best to get that result Friday night. Some how, some way we have to get a result versus a very good team."
After starting the series 0-5 with just one goal versus UF, the Tribe, under Baker's guidance, has won three of the last four meetings. In fact, Florida State is on a 10 game-winning streak versus teams from Florida. The last loss came to the Gators in Gainesville in 2001. Baker's success in Florida is a source of pride for the fifth year head coach but he also remembers 1999, the last time an FSU team started 0-2, when he dropped the first two games as the new FSU head coach to Florida and Miami.
"My first game as a coach at FSU was at Florida and it was their first game after winning the national championship. The environment was unbelievable," said Baker. "The band was there. Steve Spurrier took a PK versus the Gator. They raised the national championship banner. We were set up as the sacrificial lamb and they handed it to us. There was a huge crowd and it was painful introduction to the Florida/Florida State rivalry. The one thing about 1999 though was Florida was setting the standard for what we wanted to become.
"Things have changed since we went 0-5 in the early days. The games are so competitive now that I think home field advantage does make a difference. Who is available makes a difference. Two years ago they were very good and beat us 2-0 in Gainesville. It was (Abby) Wambach's senior year and it was a great game. There was end-to-end action and they probably had the better chances. That is another night I will never forget."
Playing at Percy Beard Stadium is a major advantage for Florida. The FSU/UF game has drawn an average of 3,171 fans in Gainesville and they are loud. For 16 of FSU's 24 players, this will be their first-ever trip to Gainesville.
"I am expecting a crazy atmosphere," said Gallegos. Last year we played in Tallahassee and the stadium was packed and it was so exciting. All eyes are on you. The crowd will probably get on us and we may get yelled at but we have to not allow that to distract us."
"I will tell our kids to embrace a great college soccer environment and don't do anything to ignite the crowd," said Baker. "We don't want to make things worse. You try to slip in, be professional, try and take care of business and get a result. That is what it boils down to. I told our players and staff that this is the environment we want to be in. We want to play very talented teams in front of a packed house on TV."
Senior captains Tollefson and Kristin Boyce are the only two current Seminoles who have ever won in Gainesville. That win came in 2000 and was widely considered the biggest win in Florida State soccer history. The win at Percy Beard in the second round of the 2000 NCAA Tournament was a watershed moment for the Seminole program.
"Before we traveled down there in 2000 we had coach (Bobby) Bowden enlighten the team with some of his experiences in Gainesville and that was awesome. For our players to hear somebody of his magnitude discuss his experiences was amazing," said Baker. "No matter what the sport, a lot of the things he spoke about were relevant. We went down there and couldn't match up with them individually. We manufactured two goals and withstood some unbelievable pressure. We bent but never broke and got a result."
Baker has leaned heavily on Tollefson and Boyce this week to lend their experience to a young team. The two seniors are not only the only players to win in Gainesville but they are also 3-1 in their careers versus the Gators. An amazing feat considering FSU was 0-5 all time and was outscored 21-1 when they committed to FSU in 1999.
"Part of leadership is conveying stories and providing insight. Hopefully Amber (Tollefson) and (Kristin) Boyce have already done that this week," said Baker. "Our senior leaders are going to have to walk us in there tall and proud. We need them to lead us to victory versus a very talented team that is playing very well right now."
"What we have done in the past doesn't matter right now. I want to relay to the players that have never played UF before," said Tollefson. "It is a magical feeling you get when you beat the Gators. The feeling is like winning a national championship because the rivalry is that real. Wearing FSU on your jersey fills you with pride but never more so than when you are playing the Gators and especially in Gainesville. That FSU on your jersey has to mean something to you."
Of FSU's eight freshmen, only India Trotter is from Florida so like Gallegos last year, the seven other members of the nation's seventh-ranked class will have no idea what to expect. Returnees have warned them that there is no way to replicate or prepare yourself for what they will see Friday night.
"It will be a physical game and I expect it to be the most difficult game for us this year. I have been looking forward to this game for a long time," said Trotter. "My official visit to FSU was Florida weekend last year. That was an amazing environment. It means a lot to us to be the best college program in the state and a win over UF is a big step in that direction. The game is all about pride."
"If our freshmen and sophomores don't understand this rivalry, they will Friday night under the lights. When they walk onto that field with 4,000 Gator fans screaming...you'll get a good idea," said Tollefson. "You don't understand it until you get on the field. The first time the freshmen get into a tackle with (Crystal) Frimpong or (Dena) Floyd they'll understand.
After an 0-2 start, FSU knows a win over a top 10 team in their home stadium will go a long way to erasing memories of a difficult opening weekend. According to the players, the team has improved every time out and they are getting comfortable playing with one another but his key to getting a result Friday night is more of an attitude than anything else.
"We need to bring energy right from the start. That game is about who wants it more and who is willing to out work the other team and the other player," said Tollefson. "You have to be competitive and you have to battle. It will be sloppy at times but it will take all of us together to get a result."
"I think we have had good intensity and that has to continue Friday," said Gallegos. "We want to get the offense going and we are willing to do whatever that takes to make it happen but right now we just haven't put it all together just yet. We aren't reading each other. We don't know each other's styles. I think we are getting better the more we play together. It will all come together for us but intensity from start to finish will carry us a long way."
Friday night's showdown will be carried live on the Sunshine Network. The game can be seen locally in Tallahassee on Comcast channel 28 and is also available throughout the nation on satellite television. There will also be live stats broadcasts and an Internet radio broadcast provided by the University of Florida. For links to those broadcasts and information on the 2003 Seminole soccer team, log on to the official home of Florida State athletics on the web at www.seminoles.com.