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Dec. 2, 2003
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FLORIDA STATE VS. UCONN
12:00 P.M. December 5, 2003 ESPN2
THIS WILL BE 16 OF THE LAST 19
There are probably two big factors that have catapulted FSU to its first-ever College Cup. Besides hard work, superior coaching and a wealth of talent, the Seminoles are advancing because they have been playing in the NCAA Tournament since the beginning of September. After falling to 1-4, the Seminoles have basically been in 'must-win' mode for over two months. Combine that with the fact that 15 of their last 18 games have come against NCAA Tournament teams and the Tribe has been playing in the tournament for a couple of months now. During that run the Seminoles have posted a phenomenal 14-3-1 record (.806 winning percentage) and their only games versus non-NCAA Tournament teams came against South Florida, FAU (a finalist in the A-Sun Conference tournament) and fellow ACC member NC State. All of those teams finished 2003 with records of .500 or above. Of the Tribe's three losses in that span, two came in one-goal losses to No. 1 North Carolina and the other was in Charlottesville, VA to then-No. 5 Virginia also by just one goal (3-2) .
Since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 32 teams in 1996, only one squad in the nation has made it to the final four in fewer trips to the NCAA Tournament than Florida State. The Florida Gators needed just three tries to make it to the College Cup in 1998 while the Seminoles made it to the promised land of women's college soccer on their fourth go-around. Penn State needed five tries before getting to its first-ever College Cup. Florida State hasn't just made it to the College Cup quickly they have looked like old pros getting there. With their win over Florida, FSU moved into second place all-time in NCAA Tournament winning percentage at .750. Only North Carolina has a better all-time winning percentage in the NCAA Tournament.
BATTLE OF THE AGES
On top of the obvious contrasts between the two semi-finals, like UNC and UCLA being consensus No. 1 and No. 2 in the polls, the two games will be a tale of two ages. The Seminoles and Huskies are the two youngest teams in the College Cup combining to start just two seniors (based on last game played) compared to the Tar Heels and Bruins who will start the game with nine seniors on the field. If you combine the number of freshmen starting for UNC and UCLA (3) they would be half the total of the freshmen that will be starting for UConn and FSU (6) in the noon game. Florida State is the only team in the College Cup with just one active senior on its roster and the only team to play four freshmen in the NCAA quarterfinals. The Seminoles will be more of the over the hill gang next season with five junior starters all becoming seniors in 2004.
HOME, AWAY, HIGHER, LOWER
Florida State's path to the College Cup is unlike anyone else's. The Seminoles are the only team that beat a higher seed to get to Cary, NC and they did it twice. Florida State was the only team that had to go on the road for the Sweet 16 and the Elite Eight. All the other teams in the College Cup played at home the last two weekends. The Tribe is the only squad that made it to the final four by beating the highest seeded team in their bracket. They are also the only squad to emerge from a bracket where none of the seeded teams was knocked out by an unseeded opponent. The Seminoles are the only team that made it to Cary by going on the road in back-to-back weeks and knocking off higher seeded squads on their home pitch. Not bad for a team that was 4-4-1 during the regular season at an opponent's field.
You can't say enough about what head coach Patrick Baker has done since overhauling the Florida State soccer program since he was hired in 1999. Every year the team has progressed. His first year the Seminoles came with in a loss to UNC in the ACC Championships from finishing .500 for the first time since 1996. The next year he shocked the soccer world with wins over Florida, North Carolina, Texas A&M, Clemson and Wake Forest during the regular season. He then took his squad to its first-ever NCAA Tournament and Sweet 16. In 2001, he took a team that was 3-24-1 in the ACC before he arrived to the upper half of the conference and into the school's first-ever ACC Championship final. In 2002, the Tribe went back to the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16. This year was the first time he had a full season to recruit every player on his roster and boy have the results shown. The Seminoles finished second in the conference, second in the ACC Tournament and are now off to their first College Cup. You have to credit the FSU administration for making a great hire when they handed the program over to Baker.
WE'RE READY FOR OUR CLOSE-UP
Florida State soccer will be making its first ever ESPN2 appearance in the national semifinal Friday but the Tribe is very comfortable playing on television. Since 2001, Florida State has been on TV 12 times and they have gone 8-4-0 in those matches. Those wins haven't come against pushovers either. Included in that group are games against North Carolina (L), Florida (1-2), Ole Miss (W), Maryland (1-1), NC State (2-0) and Duke (1-0) just to name a few. The loss to Carolina came in the ACC Championship final and was one of the best games FSU has played all season.
SECOND TIME AROUND
Florida State and Connecticut have played just one time in school history and that came in the 2002 Sweet 16. The Huskies won that game 1-0 in Storrs, CT ending FSU's season. The Tribe will get an opportunity to avenge that loss in the national semifinals Friday. Florida State head coach Patrick Baker has been deadly when he faces a team he lost to the year before. The first time Baker faced Florida, North Carolina, Miami, Texas A&M and Wake Forest in 1999 he went 0-5. The next time he saw those teams in the regular season in 2000 he went 5-0. In 1999 those teams outscored FSU 21-3 but in 2000 Baker's squad combined to beat those teams in the regular season by a score of 15-6. The Tribe scored 12 more goals and allowed 15 less in the rematches. Overall, Baker has only fared worse twice in 21 games when facing an opponent for the second time. The first time his Seminoles faced Oregon State they won 2-1 the second time the teams played to a 0-0 tie. Then in 2000 FSU downed Kansas 3-1 and this year the teams met again and the Jayhawks won 3-1.
CAROLINA ON OUR MIND
Florida State may not be playing at home but they can't help feeling comfortable at the SAS Soccer Complex in Cary, NC. It was the site of FSU's national coming out party this season. The stadium hosted the ACC Championships and Florida State played some of its best soccer of the season that week. The Tribe advanced to the ACC Championship final and led North Carolina on two occasions and for 50 minutes overall before falling 3-2 on a penalty kick late in the game. The Seminoles went 2-1 at the stadium as they ousted NCAA Tournament teams Wake Forest (2-1) and Maryland (1-0) on their way to the championship game. They also played very well as the higher seed, which they will be in the semifinals versus UConn. The Tribe was 2-0 in the ACC Championships as the higher seeded team and while using the home locker room.
BATTLING THE BIG EAST
You can't blame Florida State for being a little upset they don't get to face another Southeastern Conference team in the semifinals considering the Tribe is 6-0 all-time in the NCAA Tournament against SEC teams after their quarterfinal win against Florida. The Tribe is 1-1 all-time against BIG EAST teams in the NCAA Tournament. They lost 1-0 at semifinal opponent UConn last year and beat West Virginia in Morgantown in the Sweet 16 this year. Overall, since head coach Patrick Baker took over the Seminole program, FSU is 6-2 all time against BIG EAST squads. Four of those wins have come against intra-state rival Miami. Half of FSU's BIG EAST wins have come in one-goal games. The two times FSU has played two teams from one conference in the NCAA Tournament, they have won both of those games both times. In 2002, FSU beat two SEC teams (Auburn and Ole Miss). This year the Tribe doubled up on the SEC again with wins over Auburn and Florida. The Tribe already has a win over the BIG EAST's Mountaineers, and they'll get a crack at pulling off the double again in the national semifinals versus Connecticut.
IT'S ABOUT THE GOALS
Obviously you have to score goals to win games but just scoring doesn't guarantee you a victory unless you are Florida State. The Seminoles have never lost an NCAA Tournament game when they have scored a goal. The Tribe's only three NCAA Tournament losses have come via shutouts. Two losses came in 1-0 games (Clemson and UConn) and one in a 2-0 game (Clemson). Eight of FSU's nine NCAA Tournament wins have also come when the Tribe scores the game's first goal. The only time Florida State fell behind 1-0 and won was in the second round versus Auburn this year. Overall, FSU is 53-4-2 all-time under Baker when they score the game's first goal.
WRECKING THE RECORDS
When you play a school record 25 games, records are going to fall and that is the case this season for Florida State as well. The Seminoles run to the College Cup has helped the team obliterate the record book but it isn't just due to the amount of games. Florida State has set single-season records for wins (17), points (182), goals (60), assists (62), shots (426), shots on goal (189), shutouts (9) and neutral site victories (3). That is amazing but even more so are the per game records, which have nothing to do with a longer season. The 2003 Seminoles are currently the best FSU team ever as far as points/game (7.28), assists/game (2.48) and shots/game (17). The only category they are not setting a record per game pace is goals. Florida State is averaging 2.44 goals per game, which is behind the record 2.55 set in 1996. The 2003 Seminoles' season may be longer but you also have to take into account that those games have come against (ACC Tournament and NCAA Tournament games).
RISE AND SHINE
Florida State and UConn will square off on ESPN2 Friday at noon. Not early in general but fairly early for a soccer game. That's is fine by the Seminoles who have played very well in early games. The last time they played at noon it was at the SAS Soccer Complex in Cary, NC and FSU downed Wake Forest 2-1. It was just the second-ever win for Florida State over Wake in 11 tries. The Seminoles played at 9:00 a.m. earlier in the year and they proceeded to destroy San Diego State 6-1, once again at a neutral site, and that victory began Florida State's 16-3-1 run. Even going back to 2001, the Seminoles played a noon game versus Maryland in North Carolina at a neutral site and blasted the Terps 7-2 for the school's first-ever ACC Tournament win. The last three times FSU has played at 12:00 or earlier they have all been at neutral sites, two in North Carolina, and FSU has gone 3-0 while out scoring its opponents 15-4.
FOUR DIVIDED BY TWO EQUALS ACC
There is an obvious ACC flavor at the 2003 Women's College Cup and it has more to do with the location of the SAS Soccer Complex. With both Florida State and North Carolina making it to the final four, this is the ninth time in NCAA Tournament history that two teams from the same conference have made it this far. The only two conferences that have sent two teams to the final four are the Atlantic Coast Conference and the West Coast Conference. The ACC has now done it five times and the WCC has done it four times. The WCC has only ever sent Portland and Santa Clara to the final four while the ACC has seen UNC and NC State (twice), UNC and Virginia, UNC and Duke and UNC and Florida State make it to the last weekend of the season. The only time two ACC teams have met for the national title was in 1988 (UNC vs. NC State) and 1992 (UNC vs. Duke).
LOOKS GOOD FOR 50
Junior Jez Ratliff has quietly had one of the best NCAA Tournaments for FSU this year. That might be because she didn't score her first NCAA Tournament goal of 2003 until her half-volley put the Seminoles up 2-0 on Florida in the Elite Eight but that goal brought her right to the forefront. The junior is leading FSU with four postseason assists and is tied with All-America candidate Leah Gallegos for the team lead in points. Of FSU's four wins, Ratliff has helped clinch two with a game-winning assist in the Sweet 16 versus West Virginia and a game-winning goal last week versus Florida. Her game-winner against UF pushed the wide midfielder's career point total to 50. She is just the sixth Seminole to ever accumulate that many points in her career. She has now tied a personal high for points in a single season (17) and set a new personal-high for assists in a season (7). Ratliff is the only player in FSU history to record 16 or more points in each of her first three seasons. With her game-winning goal versus UF, she now has at least one game-winner in each of her first three seasons as well.
THE DEFENSE RESTS
When it comes to finding the secret to the Seminoles success in 2003 the case is closed and the defense gets the credit. That doesn't just mean the five primary starters on the back line or goalkeeper Joy McKenzie. The Tribe is winning because of team defending from the forwards all the way back. This year's Seminoles are allowing 1.01 goals per game, by far the lowest number in school history. The 2003 squad is allowing more than a half a goal less per game than last year's team and is ahead of the record set by the 2000 team that allowed 1.23 goals per game. Only three of FSU's last 20 opponents have been able to score more than one goal versus the Seminoles and nine have been shutout by the FSU defense. It's no wonder that FSU has gone 16-3-1 in its last 20 games.
Florida State's Elite Eight win in Gainesville was a rare occurrence for a few reasons. First off, the Gators were in the midst of a 19 game home unbeaten streak (17-0-2) before Florida State came in and ended that. The loss was also just the 12th in 106 home games at Percy Beard Stadium for the Gators. Even more remarkably, Florida State became just the second team ever to beat UF twice in Gainesville and the first to record both of those wins in the NCAA Tournament. Florida has only lost three NCAA Tournament games ever at Percy Beard and two have now come to Florida State. The loss was UF's fourth to Florida State. Only North Carolina has more wins (five) against UF than Florida State.
BEATING THE ODDS
Not many teams have been able to pull off what FSU pulled off on its way to the College Cup. In order to get to Cary, NC the Seminoles had to win in two stadiums where opponents just don't win. The Tribe first defeated a West Virginia team that was 19-1-0 at home in its last 20 games with their only loss coming to Elite Eight squad Penn State. They then marched into Gainesville and beat a Gator team that was unbeaten at home dating back to the start of the 2001 season (17-0-2). Those teams were a combined 36-1-2 (.949) at home before FSU beat them both. If our math is correct, that meant Florida State had a .6% chance of going into Morgantown and Gainesville and leaving both stadiums with a win.
For the first time in Florida State's NCAA Tournament history they held a team without a corner kick and it couldn't have come at a better time. In front of over 3,400 fans in Gainesville, the Tribe suffocated the Gator offense and held UF without a corner for the first time since August 31. Florida came into the match averaging almost six corners per game and had 25 in its first three NCAA Tournament games. The stat is representative of just how well the Seminoles played. Florida didn't get off its first shot of the game until the 30th minute and it had just two shots in the game at the 75th minute. The first time the teams met in 2003, FSU limited the Gators to just two corners that night meaning UF had just two corner kicks in 180 minutes of play against FSU this year. The Gators averaged almost six corners a game in the previous 10 meetings with Florida State. The Seminoles also limited the Gators to their fewest shots ever in a Florida State/Florida game. In 11 all-time meetings, the Gators have recorded double digit shots versus FSU every time before this year's Elite Eight meeting. The Seminoles held UF to just eight shots with just three on frame and six coming after UF fell down 2-0 in the last 15 minutes.
It is really a credit to the Florida State coaching staff that the Seminoles have come as far as they have when you look at the team's line-up this season. Only one player, Jez Ratliff, has started every game at the same position this year. The wide midfielder has started on the right flank all 25 games this year. Only three other players have started every game in 2003 but none at the same spot. Sophomore All-America candidate Leah Gallegos has started up top 24 times but made one start as the Seminoles' attacking midfielder. Freshman Kelly Rowland started the first five games of the season as FSU's right back but has played centrally the last 19 games. Senior Amber Tollefson has made 24 starts out wide on the left side of the FSU midfield but also made one start as the teams left back.
WHY NOT US?
Florida State may be new to the College Cup but recent history bodes well for the new guys. Three of the last five teams to win a National Championship were first time winners (Portland, Santa Clara and Florida). The only one of those three teams to win the title in their first trip to the final four was another southern school from the sunshine state (Florida in 1998). Florida State is just the third southern school to ever make the final four. Florida and UCF are the only other schools from anywhere below North Carolina to make it this far in the NCAA Women's Soccer Tournament.
GOOD OUT OF THE GATE
First half goals have been a rare occurrence against Florida State this season. In 1125:00 first half minutes, the Seminoles have allowed just nine goals. The Tribe's first half goals against average is just 0.72 and they are allowing a first half goal just about once every 125 minutes. That means teams are scoring a first half goal against FSU just once every three matches. The Tribe has scored 25 of its goals in the first half and that 3:1 ratio has held up in the NCAA Tournament as well.
We're not talking about the venerable TV show here. We are talking about when the Seminole offense is most dangerous. Florida State has scored more goals between 60:01 and 68:51 than any other span of a game. During that 8:50 Florida State has scored 15 of their 60 goals. If you divide FSU's games into 15-minute sections, the Seminoles have the most goals (19) from 60:01 to 75:00. The time span when you can least expect an FSU goal is from 30:01 to 45:00 when the Tribe has scored just three all season. In fact, the 15 minutes before and after halftime are the worst for FSU when it comes to goal scoring as the Tribe has just 10 goals in that 30 minute span. That is fewer or equal to the goals that FSU has in three 15-minute spans (see chart below).
NO. 2 IS NOW NO. 1
Senior Amber Tollefson will finish her Florida State career this weekend in the ultimate soccer spotlight. A deserving send off for a player coach Patrick Baker calls one of the recruits who helped turn the program into a national power. Tollefson's career has been characterized by unselfishness so it is so appropriate she set a new single season record with her game-winning assist versus Florida in the Elite Eight. Tollefson now owns the single season assist record (11) at FSU on top of the career assists record (25). She has taken over both marks with her play in the NCAA Tournament where she has assists in three of FSU's four wins and two have been game-winners. Tollefson is now second for assists by a Seminole in a single NCAA Tournament and second for career assists at FSU in the NCAA's. She and Jez Ratliff have been doing their job out wide as the two midfielders have accounted for half of the team's 14 assists in this year's NCAA Tournament.
Junior goalkeeper Joy McKenzie has been one of the best stories for Florida State this year. The recruited walk-on has gone from walking-on, to earning a scholarship, to becoming a starter to becoming a star. She has had a record-breaking season as she has established records for GAA (goals against average), ACC shutouts, ACC GAA, consecutive shutouts, consecutive ACC shutouts, consecutive minutes without allowing a goal and consecutive minutes without allowing a goal in ACC play. She set her biggest record of all in the Elite Eight as she recorded her 15th win of the season an all-time high for an FSU keeper. The Florida native came to FSU by way of Houston, TX and she is having a postseason as big as the Lone Star state itself. McKenzie has set FSU records for single season and career wins in the NCAA Tournament, GAA in the NCAA Tournament (0.92) and shutouts in a single NCAA Tournament. As soon as she steps out for the second half of the Connecticut game she will set another record. McKenzie will become just the third FSU keeper to ever play 2000 minutes in a single season and at the end of the Huskies match she will have played the second-most minutes of any Seminole keeper in a single season.