Sept. 19, 2003
It has been 18 days since the Seminole soccer team stepped out and played a game on their home field. After spending the last two weekends posting a 2-2 record on the road, Florida State (2-4-0) returns home to play host to the Nike Seminole Classic. The Tribe gets things started Friday, September 19 at 7:00 p.m. versus in-state rival Miami (4-3).
"We knew coming into the year that this schedule was heavy with away games," said junior Jez Ratliff. "Unfortunately, we didn't get off to a good beginning at home. This weekend we are looking to get back the mentality of protecting our home field."
The Seminoles have won 11 consecutive home games versus teams from the state of Florida and three straight games against Miami. Despite a loss to UF earlier this season, FSU is 20-2-0 against Florida schools since 2000. Overall since head coach Patrick Baker arrived in 1999, the Seminoles have posted a .857 winning percentage against their in-state rivals, going 24-4-0 and Baker has a winning record versus every in-state team he has faced in his four-plus years.
"When we took over the program, Florida State was not considered one of the best teams in the state," said Baker. "Over the last three years I hope we have changed that a little bit. Having good results against teams in the state is very important. If there's a talented young lady that wants to play her college soccer in Florida, we hope she would look to Florida State."
"The Miami game is always a big one," said Ratliff. "It's an in-state rivalry but the last few years we've been fortunate to have success against them. Last year was a really close game and we are still searching for our first home win of the season. So we are hoping to get back on the right track against a very good team Friday night."
The last time FSU walked off the Seminole Soccer Complex field with a loss against a Florida team was August 29, 1999 in a 3-0 loss to Miami, which was just the second game of Baker's FSU career.
"We felt like we were extremely unfortunate not to win in 1999 but I give Miami credit for scoring the goals they needed that day. We out shot them like 23-12 but they got the result. Since that time we have really turned the corner as a program," said Baker. "The games have always been close. We've had some success against Miami as of late but it is a new year and where we are right now, we have to come out and fight and scrape for a victory."
Florida State is anxious to step back out after a convincing 6-1 win over San Diego State last weekend. The Seminole offense, which had averaged just over a goal a game in their first five, broke out as five different players recorded goals as FSU streaked out to a 6-0 lead.
"I think we played really well Sunday (San Diego State) and were rewarded with some really good goals. It was exciting to also see the scoring come from so many different players," said Baker. "We have had some great training sessions this week and we have all challenged ourselves to have a repeat performance Friday night. I don't mean a 6-1 win but that level of quality we showed versus the Aztecs."
"We struggled scoring goals early on but things started to come together versus San Diego State," said Ratliff. "We worked on some things that helped but it has always been about us being able to link up and then stick the ball in the net when we get the chances."
Defensively, the Tribe came within 6:45 of their first shutout of the year versus SDSU and the only Aztec goal came with only two FSU starters still on the field. The defensive effort put forth by the Tribe back four came on the heels of the group's worst outing of the season as far as goals scored is concerned. After the 3-1 loss to Kansas, Baker moved freshman Kelly Rowland into the center from her spot on the right side, and the Pennsylvania native responded despite making her first ever collegiate start as a center back.
"At first I was a little nervous playing in the center because I hadn't practiced there," said Rowland. "After a little while on the field, it all comes back to you. Having (Katie) Beal next to me is a big help also. It is hard to mess up too bad with her next to me. She is always letting me know what to do and I draw on her and (Kristin) Boyce's experience. Now that I have had a week of practice back there, I feel more comfortable."
Entering the 2003 season, the FSU defense was being counted on to carry the squad until the younger players felt comfortable in the Tribe's new offense. The back four didn't get off to the start they wanted though and that hasn't escaped Rowland and her teammates in the Seminole defense.
"Me and Boyce talk about wanting this defense to get better every day," said Rowland. "We were all really frustrated in the beginning. None of us have ever played on a backline that gave up an average of two goals a game. We talked about the mentality we want to build when it some to shutting an opponent out. If we don't let teams score, there is no way we can lose.
"The San Diego State result was a confidence booster for our defense. We know we are capable of shutting teams out even though we did give up a late goal in that game. We want to look to build on that outing."
Miami will challenge they revamped Seminole defense, which includes Rowland in the middle and Tallahassee native Marion Cagle starting at right back. The Hurricanes have only been shutout once this season but have scored a goal or less in four of their seven contests. After starting 2-0, UM has gone 2-3 in its last five.
"There are a number of players back from last year but they have been moved around," said Baker. "They are starting a nice mix of new players as well, including a freshman in goal. They have a player from England (Sheuneen Ta) who we hear is pretty special. They got Jyene Mack back after redshirting last year. She tore her ACL and she is a dangerous player up top. I saw here compete against Leah (Gallegos) a couple of times in their club days. Vonda Matthews is back and she is a talented and versatile leader for them. They have tweaked some things thematically and they will come in here just as hungry for a win as we are.
"We have to keep playing well regardless of who we are playing and the system we are going to face. When we play to our capabilities, we can play with the best teams in the country and we proved that with our level of play versus Penn State and Florida."
The Tribe is joined by 2002 NCAA Tournament team and 21st ranked Mississippi (6-0-0), Miami (4-3-0) and Jacksonville (2-3) at the 2003 Nike Seminole Classic at the Seminole Soccer Complex this weekend. Jacksonville and Mississippi kick the tournament off Friday, September 19 at 4:30 p.m. The Seminoles will renew their in-state rivalry with the Canes at 7:00 p.m. that evening. Sunday's games begin at 11:30 a.m. as the Canes and Dolphins square off before the re-match of last year's NCAA Tournament opener, between the Rebels and Seminoles. The Tribe won that first round game 2-0 last year.
All the tournament action is free and all the games will be played at the Seminole Soccer Complex. For more information on the Nike Seminole Classic, Sunday's free youth clinic or the FSU soccer team, please logon to the official athletic website for FSU at www.seminoles.com.