Nov. 20, 2003
Tallahassee, FL - It has been a while since the sixth-ranked Florida State soccer team (15-7-1) had a full week to prepare for an opponent. In fact the last time they could spend seven days focusing on one team and one team only was before they opened the season August 29 versus Southern Cal. Since then the Tribe hasn't had a seven day stretch between games. The closest came in the middle of October when FSU had six days between ACC games against Wake Forest and NC State.
"It is great to have a whole week to prepare. It is different from what our schedule was just two weeks ago at the ACC Tournament," said Camie Bybee. "We have had a great week of practice. We are regrouping a little bit and we will be ready for Sunday.
"Preparations have been going pretty well. We came off playing on Friday and Sunday and had a whole week to get ready. These last few days we'll see some video and really start to get a visual of the Mountaineers."
If the Seminoles ever needed a full week to prepare, this is it. They will be facing a West Virginia side that is 17-3-2 this season, ranked ninth in the nation and seeded sixth in the NCAA Tournament. The Mountaineers are coming off one of their most impressive wins of the year in the round of 32 where they dispatched Ohio State 3-0. They also boast Hermann Award semifinalist Chrissie Abbott who will be the seventh Hermann Award semifinalist that FSU has faced in 2003.
As dangerous as West Virginia is, the Seminoles will not only be squaring off versus WVU. They will be fighting history as well. As good as FSU has been in the NCAA Tournament, the Tribe owns the sixth-best all-time winning percentage in the tournament, they have never won a Sweet 16 match. They haven't even scored a goal in a third round game. The Tribe's two losses have been to Clemson (2-0) in 2000 and last year at UConn (1-0).
"I'm not sure what it will take to get over the hump and win a Sweet 16 game," said senior co-captain Amber Tollefson. "I think we got a taste of that last year at UConn. We thought we had the chance to take the next step but they made an early goal stand up for a 1-0 win. This year we expect more of ourselves but we will need to fight if we want to come out on top.
"It is so disheartening to have your season end on an opponent's field. As an underclassman you want to win for the seniors. I remember looking at the faces of our seniors the last two years and you can see how disappointed they are. It is tough to lose and have your season end on someone else's field."
Tollefson is now the lone senior still playing for FSU and it is up to the underclassmen to make sure she doesn't play her last game this Sunday. The Florida State freshmen have been doing their job to keep Tollefson's and FSU's season alive so far in the NCAA Tournament. The group, which was ranked seventh nationally in the fall, has scored three of Florida State's seven postseason goals in the first two rounds.
"It says a lot about our class and our mentality," said defender Kelly Rowland, a Wallingford, PA native. "In the preseason there were a lot of expectations on this freshman class due to a high ranking in the recruiting ratings. I think we have proven ourselves more and more each time we step out. Hopefully we get better and better.
"Playing in the ACC and the out of conference schedule we played prepared the freshmen for the level of play you see in the NCAA Tournament. We are trying to step up as a class and do our part to help the team."
The 2003 Seminoles entered the tournament as a national seed for the first time ever and are a consensus top 12 team in the national polls. They come into Morgantown with a 14-3-1 record over the last 18 games. They played No. 1 North Carolina to a goal in the ACC Championship final and outscored their opening round NCAA Tournament opponents 7-1. Ever since dropping to 1-4 they have been in a must-win situation so can they keep that mentality for another big game?
"It is very difficult to maintain a high level of play every time out but the NCAA's make it easier because you have extra energy just being in the tournament," said Jez Ratliff. "Everybody is playing a little more inspired since the tournament began."
Thursday was the last time FSU practiced in Tallahassee for Sunday's match. The team leaves for Morgantown Friday and will get a chance to train at the stadium Saturday afternoon. After taking Monday off, the team put together three straight solid training sessions.
"We worked hard this week trying to ensure that we are playing at a high level going into the weekend," said Ratliff. "We made sure we stayed active this week and were ready for a great West Virginia team."
For Tollefson this will be her third and final shot at an Elite Eight berth. The senior committed to Florida State when the program had never been to the NCAA Tournament and it has now gone every year she has been here. She has played in two ACC Championship finals and she almost single-handedly assured she would get another shot at the Elite Eight with her play versus Auburn last week. The Boca Raton, FL native had the equalizing goal and the game-winning assist in overtime, which extended her soccer career another week.
"It is crunch time and nobody wants to see their season end this weekend especially me," said Tollefson. "We have been to the Sweet 16 and we want to take that next step but it won't be easy to do versus West Virginia. They are a good team. We want to be eating thanksgiving dinner together next week and that's what we'll be fighting for."
Florida State's Sweet 16 match with the Mountaineers is set for 1:00 p.m. Sunday in Morgantown. The West Virginia Sports Information office will be providing live stats for the match. You can link to the stat broadcast from the official athletic website for the Florida State Department of Athletics at www.seminoles.com.