Nov. 14, 2003
Tallahassee, FL - The NCAA Tournament is just two games old and there have already been two upsets and one of the upsets involved national 10 seed Colorado. Don't think that didn't catch the attention of the sixth-ranked and 11th seeded Seminoles (13-7-1). Florida State opens NCAA Tournament play tonight at 7:00 p.m. against Ivy League champion Dartmouth (9-5-2) and they know better than to underestimate a team that has been to more Sweet 16's in the last five years than FSU has attended in program history.
"They (Dartmouth) are going to be very difficult because they are a great team," said Teresa Rivera. "Any team in the NCAA Tournament is of caliber but I think Dartmouth is as tough as it gets. We better be ready or we could be upset victim number three."
Both squads enter Friday night's match as hot as anyone in the nation as the two teams have combined to go 20-3-3 to finish the year. The strong finishes came after slow starts though as FSU and Dartmouth limped out of the gate to 1-4 and 1-5 starts respectively.
"After we played Kansas we dropped to 1-4," said head coach Patrick Baker. "Dartmouth is similar as they started off 1-5 and have since gone undefeated in their last 10. To remain undefeated through the rigors of the Ivy League schedule is not an easy thing. I see a lot of us in them in the way the seasons unfolded. Both sides are finding ways to win and be successful."
"Knowing the way we responded after a 1-4 start, I give them a lot of credit. It shows me that they fought just as hard as we did to get here," said Camie Bybee.
While Florida State isn't undefeated in their last ten heading into tonight's match, they did post a 12-3-1 record down the stretch with two losses combing by a goal to No. 1 North Carolina and the third by a goal at No. 10 Virginia. The Seminoles stretch run was so impressive that they are now ranked a program-high in all four national polls and they were tabbed an 11th seed by the NCAA. That doesn't mean there weren't some worried players after the slow start.
"I was a little worried. I had only been here for a month or so and I didn't know what this team was capable of," said freshman Julia Schnugg. "Being 1-4 scared me but I have learned to never doubt this team. This is an amazing group of people and I know now that they are able to accomplish anything."
Tonight, FSU will try to build on one of the most impressive showings in school history in the ACC Championships final. Despite losing to North Carolina 3-2, the game was the closest final in 15 years and the Tribe earned respect from all over the soccer world as they led Carolina for almost 30 minutes during the match and were leading or tied with the Tar Heels for 85 of the 90 minutes.
"Tonight I will be looking for a level of excitement from our group. This is what you work so hard for," said Baker. "We are one of just 64 teams in the country still playing and we all have the same goal and that is to be playing Sunday. One of the other things I will be looking for is if we are still playing at the same level we were in Cary (ACC Championships).
"I felt like playing Wake Forest, Maryland and North Carolina for a second time at the ACC Tournament we were better than we were in the first meeting. A lot of teams can't do that three games in a row. We got better and better and better every game and that is exciting for this time of the year. We are playing good soccer yet we keep improving. I will be looking to see if that is continuing tonight."
For the Tribe's success to continue, Schnugg and fellow ACC All-Freshman team member India Trotter and ACC All-Tournament team selection Kelly Rowland need to continue to play at a high level despite being freshman playing in their first NCAA Tournament. After playing UNC in front of 4,400 fans for the ACC Title this past Sunday, the freshmen are still excited for their first taste of the NCAA Tournament.
"I am really excited. This is probably the most excited I have ever been," said Schnugg. "We are at home in front of our crowd on Friday night where we have played well historically. This game can't get here soon enough for me."
As great as it was playing in the ACC final, will that game eventually come back to haunt the Seminoles especially since Dartmouth didn't play in a conference tournament and have stepped out just once in the last 13 days. In that same stretch FSU has played three games against three NCAA Tournament teams.
"There is an advantage to a certain degree to playing a conference tournament but I also think those games can hurt you if you go to the championship," said Baker. "For us we had an extra day of rest after the quarterfinals and that was essential for us to have legs against North Carolina in the final. In the Ivy, the emphasis is on the regular season and that makes them (Ivy League games) so important and there is a little more at stake. For us the ACC Tournament was a good thing this year but that isn't always the case."
One of the advantages of playing the ACC Tournament is that the Tribe has already had a taste of the 'one-and-done' mentality that comes a along with tournament play. Knowing you are 90 minutes away from your season being over requires that players brings a totally different mentality to the pitch.
"The mentality of the tournament is completely different," said Katie Beal. "Everyone knows that if you lose your season is done and they bring their best game. You won't have another chance to step out if you don't get it done."
"Every game is a must win in the NCAA Tournament but we have been in that mode ever since Kansas," said Baker.
The Seminoles have never lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in three trips and Baker has a 5-3-0 all-time NCAA Tournament record at Florida State. One of the reasons he believes the team has had success is that three of those five wins have come at the Seminole Soccer Complex.
"When I was at NC Wesleyan I think I was 0-3 in NCAA opening round games," said Baker. "The first game involves a lot of different things. There are nerves. You may be seeing an opponent for the first time ever, which is our case tonight. You don't know what to expect those first few minutes and you just hope you don't give anything away. One of the reasons we have had success is that two of the three opening round games for us have been at home. That means a great deal. We have had success at home, we've had wonderful crowds and we've found ways to win."
Since Baker came to FSU, the Seminoles are 15-1-2 at home on Friday nights and the bigger the crowd, the better they play. Baker's teams have never lost at home on a Friday night when there are more than 1,000 fans in the stands. That has happened four times this season already versus Duke (3-0), Miami (7-1), Maryland (2-1) and NC State (1-0).
"I love playing here on Friday nights," said Rivera. "The lights are on and the fans come out in big numbers. The support we get is great and it makes Friday nights at home very special."
This is the fourth straight trip to the NCAA Tournament for FSU and the first time ever that every player on the roster has been to an NCAA Tournament. Despite playing in two Sweet 16's in the last three years, it is a special time of the year and that doesn't change whether this is your first trip or third and whether you have had success or not.
"It is more exciting every year because you realize that you have one less year to experience NCAA play," said Beal. "For me it gets better and better."
"We are really excited to get back into the tournament and just like the other 64 teams, we want to go as far as we can," said Rivera. "We appreciate getting to the Sweet 16 last year but that is in the past now. It doesn't guarantee us anything this year. We have high expectations of what we are capable of but so does Dartmouth and they have proven that year in and year out."
The NCAA Tournament in Tallahassee begins today at 4:30 p.m. when Big 12 Champion Oklahoma State faces off with Auburn. Tickets are $7.00 and $5.00 for seniors (50+) and students (8-13). There are a limited number of free tickets for Florida State students but they must show their ID at the gate. The ticket is good for both games of Friday's session.
A live stats broadcast of both games will be available at www.seminoles.com, the official athletic website for Florida State University. Check out the NCAA Tournament website on-line.