Aug. 19, 2003
Tallahassee, FL - With two preseason games set for this weekend and the season opener versus 19th-ranked Southern Cal just 10 days away, No. 15 Florida State returned to two-a-day practices Tuesday. The team continued to focus on finding the best system to suit a team that is stocked with young and athletic midfielders and forwards.
Head coach Patrick Baker is working with a group of midfielders and frontrunners that is the youngest in his five years at FSU. Ten of the 13 players that Baker is considering playing somewhere in the midfield or up top are either freshmen or sophomores.
"The best thing about having such a young group of midfielders is that our opponents will have no idea what to expect," said junior Jez Ratliff. "With so many freshmen it will be hard for them to know what we are capable of. We will be coming at people from a fresh perspective that they haven't seen. There is also a lot more energy due to their youth. We all know that there will be mistakes but the young players have this mentality that when they make a mistake they work even harder to make up for it."
"There will be a learning curve," said Baker. "The defenses the young players see will be much harder to breakdown. A lot of the things they got away with in high school and club they won't get away with at this level. That is especially interesting when you consider the first three opponents we face. If we are going to have success, it will be a combination of our older players leadership and the performance of our younger players."
Ratliff, just a couple of seasons removed from an All-ACC Rookie campaign, is now the elder statesman of the group and is one of the upperclassmen Baker is counting on to lead the inexperienced group. The junior wide midfielder is coming off a season where she set a personal career high for goals and was in the top three for points, goals and assists. She now has the added responsibility of mentoring as many as five freshmen midfielders.
"I have taken more of a leadership role this season, which is a little bit scary," joked Ratliff. "It is a little different for me this year because I am helping them, taking them under my wing and showing them anything I can to help. I always had that from the older players but now it is my turn to give back. The group is extremely hard working and very talented so there will be things I can learn from them too."
Depending on the system Baker implements this season, FSU could have five first-year players rotating in the Seminole midfield. It doesn't hurt that two are US U-17 National Team players and the other three came to Tallahassee as highly decorated recruits. A different freshman is stepping up everyday and proving themselves during training.
"Kelly Rowland proved today why she could be a very formidable threat up front. She has great athleticism and pace and she strikes a great ball. She created and scored a lot of goals today," said Baker. "Toby (Ranck) and Julia (Schnugg) have done a great job. Second year players Alli Ferreri and Leah (Gallegos) have a great understanding from last year and Jez Ratliff is a proven commodity. We are probably a little further along then we ever have been but having not played anybody we don't have the proven players we had in the past."
Along with Ratliff, junior Camie Bybee and senior Amber Tollefson are the only players with a lot of experience in the group. The Tribe is going to have to rely on five, second year players and a group of newcomers that were part of the nation's seventh-ranked class.
"We have a lot of room for improvement right now but in the long run it is going to be a huge advantage because we are gaining a lot of experience early in our careers. That will be an advantage for us," said freshman Schnugg. "This is the best group I have ever played with and although we have a ways to go, I love the potential that we have and I am very excited about what we can accomplish.
"The biggest thing we still have ahead of us collectively is getting to know one another. Learning each other's strengths and weaknesses. Once we figure that out, we are going to connect very well."
After 16 practices in six days, Florida State will finally get the opportunity to play somebody not wearing garnet and gold in just three days. The Tribe will play the Tallahassee United Boys U-16 team Friday, August 22 at 7:00 p.m. at the Seminole Soccer Complex. The squad will take Saturday off and then face United Quest (Georgia) U-18 girl's team Sunday at 4:00 p.m. at the home also. Both games are free to the public and live stats will be available at www.seminoles.com the official athletic website for Florida State University.