Oct. 31, 2003
Chapel Hill, NC - It is estimated that 75,000 people will be flocking to Chapel Hill, NC Friday night to take part in one of the best Halloween parties on the east coast. For the ninth-ranked FSU soccer team, they will be more concerned with the ghosts inside vaunted Fetzer Field than the ghouls and goblins parading down Franklin Street. The unanimous No. 1 Tar Heels (17-0-0, 6-0-0) have already locked up their 14th ACC regular season title but they will try to wrap up a perfect regular season versus No. 9 FSU (11-5-1, 4-1-1) tonight at 7:00 p.m.
The Seminoles head to Chapel Hill in the midst of a run that has seen them shutout six straight opponents and post a 10-1-1 record in the last 12 games. The Tribe is in the middle of its best defensive season ever allowing just four goals in conference play and 17 goals overall. The team's shutout streak is now at 380:27 but they will face a Tar Heel offense that is down-right scary and leading the nation with an average of 3.82 goals per game.
"This will be the toughest challenge we have faced this year against the most talented offense we have seen," said keeper Joy McKenzie. "I have full confidence in the defense and they will do everything they can to stop the Tar Heels from getting shots off. They will be tested and so will I."
"We are excited about where we are at," said head coach Patrick Baker. "We are going to go in and try to play to our strengths while trying to minimize theirs. It is a daunting task to go into Fetzer but we feel we have as good of a team as we have ever had. We are excited about the opportunity to play the No. 1 team in the country."
The Seminole defense has made life tough on opposing offenses lately and life easy for breakout goalkeeper McKenzie. The former walk-on and first-year starter leads the ACC in GAA in conference play and had twice as many shutouts as any keeper in conference play. She is assured of finishing the season as the ACC's shutout leader in conference games and only McKenzie and UNC's Aly Winget are undefeated in ACC play. McKenzie has allowed just one goal in ACC games this year while five other starters have allowed eight or more.
"We are going into this game in as good of shape as possible in the sense that we have shutout our last six opponents," said McKenzie. "Everybody on this team has the mentality that we want to defend well, we want to compete and we want to win. Everybody is excited to measure ourselves against the best team in the land. Hopefully we are just able to play to our potential."
With her two shutouts last week, McKenzie has added to her Florida State records for minutes without allowing a goal (672:15) and consecutive minutes without a goal in conference play (365:22). She also became the first goalkeeper in Florida State history to record four ACC shutouts in a single season and the first ever to record four consecutive conference shutouts (Duke, Clemson and Wake Forest). She is now 4-0-1 in the conference and has a GAA of just 0.19. Overall, she moved her record to 9-3-1 and lowered her GAA to 0.75, after a 0-3-0 start and a GAA of 2.15. She played almost 13 minutes versus Carolina in mop up duty last season but this will be her stiffest challenge since ascending to the starting job.
"I will have to step up when my team needs me to," said McKenzie. "I know what they are capable of but I have to make sure if they get a goal past me it is a quality finish."
"If we have any hopes of controlling their explosive offense it will take the best game I have ever played in my life, the best game Joy (McKenzie) has ever played and the best game this team has ever played collectively," said freshman Kelly Rowland. "If we take our game up a level and build on the good things we have been doing as of late, hopefully we'll be OK."
On top of dealing with the best offensive team in the nation, the Seminole frontrunners have to deal with a defense that has allowed just six goals and 124 shots all season and that plays a formation the Seminoles rarely see. The Heels three defenders are led by Cat Reddick who is back after her stint at the World Cup with the US National team.
"We have faced very few three back situations and never have we faced the quality of a back three like the one we will be trying to break down on Friday," said Baker.
While the Seminole offense doesn't rank as highly as North Carolina's nationally, they are right behind Carolina as the second-best scoring offense in the ACC. Julia Schnugg and Leah Gallegos form a formidable duo up top, combing for 19 goals and 49 points. Outside of the Tar Heels, no duo in the ACC has combined for more points than the Seminoles' strikers.
"I think we have a good balance offensively with Leah (Gallegos) and Julia (Schnugg)," said Baker. "Leah is a good target. We can play into her feet and she can hold it and allow us to get out if we are under pressure. In Julia, we finally have somebody up top who can stretch a team out with one quality run and change the complexion of the game. I don't think we've had that since Emma Breland in 2000. Jez (Ratliff) has provided that for us in the past but she is in the midfield now but she could play up top and provide that same dimension."
The Seminoles are one of just 16 college squads to ever best the Tar Heels but that win came in Tallahassee and senior Amber Tollefson is the only current player that was on the field for that game. Going into Fetzer Field is a different challenge considering UNC is in the midst of a 44-game home unbeaten streak with its last loss coming in September of 1999. Making things even more daunting is the fact that the Heels have lost just one regular season ACC game in school history at their field.
"It is never an easy task to play Carolina, especially at Fetzer but we have to go in believing we can win," said Tollefson. "You have to come out with adrenaline. You have to start out on fire. Everything has to be crisp and sharp or they will capitalize on it. That is a key. The year we beat them, I was a freshman. They scored and we came right back. That is so important. You have to fight when you face UNC."
"There are a lot of things you have to do well if you want to compete with North Carolina at their park," said Baker. "You have to compete, handle their speed and pressure and you have to contain a lot of different elements. You have to contain their three front. You have to make it difficult for them to get in behind you."
This will be the first ever start at Fetzer Field for seven Seminole regulars. With a roster consisting of 14 freshmen and sophomores, the mystic of North Carolina can be as much of a challenge as the talent the Heels put on the field.
"When I walk on the field I know there will be a moment when I am in awe of it all," said Rowland. "That is one of the reasons I came to Florida State, to get the opportunity to play a great program like Carolina."
"The mental aspect of the game is there because you are playing the most historic and well-known women's soccer program in the country," said Baker. "They have the best coach and the best players. When you have three or four players that are going and playing with the full national team through out the year, that says something. They have a dynamic group."
Rowland, FSU's starting center back and first-ever player to be named to the Soccer America Team of the Week twice in a year, believes FSU's youth can be a detriment and an asset. She also knows that opportunities to play the No. 1 team in the country don't come around everyday.
"I think the fact we have so many young players contributing will have both positive and negative effects. I know I will be really nervous just because we are playing North Carolina," said Rowland. "The positive is that we don't know what to expect. Once we make that first pass I think we will settle in and lose some of the nerves.
"Once we get that first tackle and first header out of the way I think we will be able to take in how great it is. We are number two in the conference and getting a chance to match up against the greatest team in the history of college soccer. This is what we have all dreamed of and it is exciting."
One Florida State freshman is probably looking forward to Friday night's match more than the others. Colorado's Rachel McDowell should get the first chance of her life to go up against big sister Mary McDowell. The junior forward has participated in all 17 of UNC's matches this year and Rachel is the third McDowell to play women's soccer in the ACC.
"It is exciting to play against my sister. It will be interesting to see how it plays out since this will be the first time we have ever played against one another," said McDowell. "I don't know if we will go up against one another in the game but if we do it will go one of two ways. We will either get really competitive or we'll start laughing. I am thrilled to be able to see her."
On top of completing the regular season undefeated, the Tar Heels will also be looking to secure the school's 550th win in program history tonight. After watching Notre Dame fall from the ranks of the unbeaten earlier in the week, the Heels will have the added incentive of remaining the only unbeaten team in the land. The win would also be the 550th of Carolina legendary head coach Anson Dorrance's career as the leader of the Heel women's soccer program.
"One of the reasons I wanted to come to Florida State was because of how great the ACC is," said Baker. "Looking at this job I knew that the best minds in the game were coaching in the ACC. Friday night we get to go up against the best mind in the game in Anson (Dorrance) and his team. I will just try to prepare my team for that."
The Seminoles return to action Wednesday, November 5 when they travel to Cary, NC for the opening round on the ACC Championships. Seedings for the tournament, which will be played at SAS Soccer Complex, are not final heading into the final weekend of conference play. North Carolina has locked up the top seed and FSU could be seeded as high as second but no worse than third. Tournament brackets will be available at www.seminoles.com, the official athletic department website for Florida State University.