Dec. 1, 2006
Cary, NC -- If preparation is the key to success, Florida State should have a chance to be successful in the team's opening College Cup game tonight. This year's Seminoles (18-3-4) come to Cary, NC experienced having eight starters who played in the national semi-final last season and of which two will start in their third College Cup. This team is battle-tested. FSU will play its 12th straight game against an NCAA Tournament squad when it takes the field tonight at 6:00 p.m. versus No. 1 Notre Dame (24-0-1). This team will also enter the tournament playing its best soccer of the year with four straight NCAA Tournament wins by a combined score of 12-2. Will all of those factors pay off in the school's first win in the College Cup, the Seminoles believe they have everything they need to put themselves in a position to advance.
"I think it's a big advantage having been there last year and also my freshman year," said Kelly Rowland who will start in her third College Cup tonight. "When you first get there it's a little unbelievable, especially for the younger players not having that experience before. I think if the older players keep everyone in check and realizing that it's not about the media and being on TV it's about going there and doing what we're there to do and that's win. So I think it's definitely an advantage for us over the previous FSU teams."
For Florida State getting the offense up and running early on versus a Notre Dame squad that has allowed just eight goals all year, will be one of the keys to the match. The Seminoles' early offensive prowess has been a big part of their return trip to Cary, NC. Of the 12 goals the team has scored in this tournament, eight have come in the first half and six have been scored in the first 30 minutes of the match.
"We need to come out firing," said Selin Kuralay. "I think last year we came out really well but a few lapses in concentration seemed to destroy the game for us. I think we all know what our job is right now. We've been focused on this College Cup moment the whole season, preparing ourselves. Everyone's ready to go, ready to roll."
"I think it'll definitely go to our advantage if we get out there and do some good things in the beginning and hopefully not get down a goal like we did last year against UCLA," said Rowland. "Just going out there and playing like we can will give us an opportunity to win and that's what we need."
Last season's meeting with UCLA in the 2005 College Cup got away from the Seminoles rather quickly. After playing the Bruins to a 0-0 tie heading to halftime, UCLA scored two goals less than five minutes apart just before half. Florida State was not able to get back into that match falling 4-0.
"I like our mentality coming off the field from Clemson in the round of eight," said FSU Head Coach Mark Krikorian. "Of course our group was quite happy to win, but I think there's some unfinished business. Last year we got ourselves into the College Cup and two years before that the Florida State team was there. You don't know how it's all going to turn out for us, but I think we're in a good spot psychologically and we're mentally prepared to go there."
The 2006 Seminoles are not the same team that lost to UCLA in last year's Cup. Offensively this year's team hasn't put up the school-record 65 goals last year's squad did but the group's attack does seem to be peaking at the right time throughout the ACC and NCAA Tournaments.
"I don't think we were quite peaking at the beginning of the year and some girls were getting frustrated that the goals weren't coming," said Kuralay. "But Mark always seemed to tell us that the goals were going to come at the right time. For us that's a huge positive because that's exactly what's happening. We're just starting to click as a team and the ball is starting to move along nicely. It's great to be able to come out and everything starts working at the most crucial time of the year."
"As long as you're creating those chances and you have good players, they're going to find ways to put the ball in the net," said Krikorian. "So as long as we continue to get those chances I wasn't as bothered by it as much. I think now we've found our way and if we can get the same number of quality chances we've had in other games we'll score some goals."
Scoring some goals versus Notre Dame has not been an easy task for any team in 2006. Only two teams scored multiple goals versus the Fighting Irish and the squad recorded an amazing 19 shutouts. If scoring on Notre Dame was a problem, stopping them is an even bigger challenge. With 82 goals on the season and an offense driven by the nation's leading goal scorer in Kerri Hanks, it is easy to see why Notre Dame enters the tournament as the favorite to win it all.
"There shouldn't be any intimidation in facing Notre Dame," said Krikorian. "I think it's safe to say that all four teams that are playing this weekend have a similar quality in terms of their players. We each have players from the US National Team and some teams have players that have played internationally and in the Olympics and so on. But I feel pretty comfortable with our group. I think we'll go there and fight hard and give ourselves a pretty good opportunity to win."
"We've never played Notre Dame in the history of our program," said India Trotter. "I think it's a great match-up, Notre Dame's a great team. You have to be a great team to make it to the College Cup. I think they have great personnel, but so do we so it'll be a great match-up."
While much of the soccer world may be calling Notre Dame the favorite, the Irish aren't buying into the hype. Despite an undefeated season, the nation's statistical leader in most offensive categories and eye-popping stats, the Fighting Irish know that nothing is guaranteed.
"We aren't viewing ourselves as favorites," said Notre Dame Head Coach Randy Waldrum. "All of these four teams are capable of winning. We really don't look at rankings though. We try and improve our play from week to week. Once this thing got down to sixteen teams, if any one of them won, the soccer community wouldn't be shocked. Maybe eight or nine years ago, but not now."
One of the things that make the second semi-final so intriguing is that the schools have never met before and have no common opponents in 2006. While the coaches and players respect one another, they don't exactly view the game the same way either.
"Florida State is a good team or they wouldn't be here," said Waldrum. "These are two teams with contrasting styles. But all season long we have tried not to worry so much about our opponent, but instead focus on our team and our level of play."
"At this point there are no bad teams at the College Cup," said Rowland. "I think it's a pretty good match-up. [Notre Dame] plays similar to us in the way they like to keep the ball and play it around. Not so much rely on athletic ability, more so on soccer and things like that. It'll be a good match-up again. I think if we do the things we can do and go out there and play as hard as we can it will give us an opportunity to win."
However the game unfolds this evening, Florida State's five seniors will be able to look back proudly that they have played in three College Cups. They did something that North Carolina's, Portland's, Santa Clara's and 296 other senior classes can't say they did. Now they want to be able to say the one thing that no other team can say, we are National Champions.
Tonight's match will begin at 6:00 p.m. and shown live across the nation on ESPN2. Game Tracker will be available at the official website for Seminole athletics at Seminoles.com as soon as it is available.