Nov. 30, 2006
Cary, NC -- Of the 301 NCAA Division I teams playing soccer, only two senior classes can say they have played in three of the last four College Cups. Florida State's seniors are one of those two classes. When Ali Mims, Toby Ranck, Kelly Rowland, Colette Swensen and India Trotter decided to come to play soccer at Florida State, the school had never played in a College Cup. Friday night at 6:30 p.m. these seniors will play in their third.
"Coming in as a freshman I never would have believed the program would have grown as much as it has," said Rowland. "Being mentioned in the same breath as North Carolina and UCLA is something we've strived for. I think it's something that Mark [Krikorian] has instilled in us and in the program to not accept anything less. I think this program has a while to go but I think we'll get there."
"I think when I first decided to come to Florida State I wanted to go somewhere that would play the North Carolinas and beat the North Carolinas and play the UCLA's and Notre Dames and Virginia's," said Trotter. "I think my class has set a platform of going to College Cups and for top five rankings."
This senior class hasn't just seen College Cups and top five rankings they have spent most of their senior season among the nation's best. Since opening 2006 with a win over No. 1 Portland, Florida State has not been ranked lower than seven in a single poll and at one point the Seminoles spent a month as the number one team in the nation according to Soccer America.
"Yeah, it's different," said Trotter. "It's weird because it never used to be like that. I think now people are looking at Florida State and since it's our third time in the past four years getting to the College Cup. The fact that our name has been a household name and it's been repetitively in the top five that now people are thinking that Florida State might be a team to beat."
That kind of perception used to be reserved to just one school, North Carolina. Florida State, which lost to Carolina the first nine times the teams met by a combined score of 62-2, can now be mentioned in the same breath as the Tar Heels thanks to this senior class. While the Seminoles have not surpassed the Heels, they have joined UNC as the top two schools in the ACC. Carolina and Florida State have combined to go to eight College Cups this decade, they have played in the ACC Championship game three times in the last six years and they are the only ACC schools who have played in the final four since 1992.
"I think we're getting there, I'm not sure if we're there yet," said Rowland. "I think if we have a good showing this weekend and having been to three of the last four College Cups you can't help but notice that Florida State's moving up. We're no longer the under dog, we're the team that people are shooting for which is different from the past. We still have to get that championship to be able to be in the same group as those great teams. I think we still have some room to grow. But if you look back on where we've been, we've come so far."
Rowland and her senior class have brought this program a long way. The foundation was laid by two previous head coaches and countless players but that groundwork has flourished since this senior class arrived. They led the Seminoles to the two most successful seasons in school history, won 67 games and posted a winning percentage of .786. Each of those marks was the best by a senior class in school history.
"The seniors can look back and be happy that we left our mark on this program and hopefully it'll keep growing and eventually get that National Championship," said Rowland. "Florida State has invested so much in this program with [Mark Krikorian] and all the other staff members. I think this program has so much potential to get to that next level."
Getting to that next level would be the perfect way for this senior class to end their careers. They have done so much in four seasons but the National Championship has eluded this group so far. Friday night these five seniors will get their third crack at capturing the top prize in the game.
"We're definitely happy to be back here at the College Cup," said Trotter. "I really think that this time we have the mindset to win the national title. I don't think it is a fluke that we are here anymore. I think being here three of the last four years we have as much of an opportunity as everyone else to win the National Championship."
"For our seniors it's the third time at the College Cup and also the last time," said Rowland. "For us to go out there and put on our best performance and not just be satisfied with getting there, we need to make a statement and make it to the championship game to give us the chance to win a National Championship."
That is the one thing that this group of five senior's really has left to do on their checklist. All five of these players remember the first trip in 2003 where the team lost to Connecticut. They all remember falling to UCLA last season. This time around it isn't just about being at the College Cup.
"I don't think last year we really knew exactly what it was all about and what to expect," said Selin Kuralay of last year's team. "But this year we're ready, we're firing and I think we're psyched to play the best soccer we've played all year. Everything is really starting to come together and it's no longer happy to be at the College Cup but it's about being there to win and having that chance to win. It's definitely about winning for us this year."
"It's completely different," said Trotter. "I think last year it proved to people that we're on the radar and that we could get to the final four despite the coaching changes and the recruiting changes. I think that is amazing and we were just happy to be there. This year it's completely different. We have a whole new mindset. We don't just want to go, we want to go and win a National Championship."
Winning a National Championship has now become more of a question of mindset than talent for Florida State. The Seminoles have beaten the No. 1 team in America once this year. FSU has played 12 games versus teams that made the NCAA Tournament and the team has also won 74% of their games played in the NCAA Tournament. The road is no easier in 2006 but the belief is bigger this year.
"This might be our year," said Rowland.
She'll find out with the rest of the nation less than 24 hours from now.
Florida State will face No. 1 Notre Dame Friday at 6:30 p.m. in Cary, NC. The game will be shown on ESPNU and rebroadcast Saturday at 12:00 p.m. on ESPN2. Game Tracker will be available on the official website for Seminole athletics at Seminoles.com.