Nov. 28, 2003
ELITE EIGHT PHOTOS
Gainesville, FL - In one of its most dominating performances in its four NCAA Tournament trips, the 11th-seeded Seminole soccer team (17-7-1) downed No. 3 seed Florida 2-1 in Gainesville to send the Tribe to the school's first-ever College Cup. It was the second time in less than a week that FSU has gone on the road and upset a higher seed in the NCAA tournament and they will now play in the final four versus the winner of Saturday's match between Connecticut and Brigham Young.
"Florida State played well tonight and you have to give a lot of credit to them," said Florida head coach Becky Burleigh. "I thought they came out and put a lot of pressure on us particularly early. I thought Florida State outplayed us and tonight the best team won."
The win was Florida State's fourth in the last six meetings with the Gators but just the second ever in Gainesville. The only other time Florida State beat UF at Percy Beard Stadium was in the 2000 NCAA Tournament. That afternoon the Seminoles eliminated the Gators by the exact 2-1 score and advanced to the school's first-ever Sweet 16.
"There have been two defining wins in our program's history and I talked about this with our players," said Florida State head coach Patrick Baker. "No disrespect to Florida, in 2000 our senior class and their senior class played opening night. On that night we beat them is dramatic fashion. Four years later with the opportunity to go to the Final Four, another defining moment for our program. I am so excited for everyone but especially our seniors, who came here when not a lot of other players would. Since that time we have had wonderful success. I am just very proud of the effort tonight."
The Tribe came out strong from the opening whistle and stymied the Gator offense all evening. Florida didn't take its first shot of the game until the 30th minute and they didn't have a single corner kick all night. Their goal came with just under three minutes remaining in the match and through 75 minutes UF had just two shots before pushing forward after falling behind 2-0.
"I think their midfield played really aggressive tonight," said Florida's Dena Floyd. "They connected in the midfield and outplayed us."
"I give our players credit. We came up with a game plan and I thought they executed it very well," said Baker. "Up until they scored with three minutes, we controlled everything. Our back four was exceptional as well as the midfield. I thought we played much better here this time around than we did in September. We are a much better team now than we were."
The last time the teams met in September, the Gators won 2-0 in Gainesville and dropped the Tribe to 0-3 on the season. The Seminoles then fell to 1-4 before making this run to the College Cup. In that stretch Florida State went 16-3-1 and of those 20 games 15 were against 2003 NCAA Tournament teams, six were against teams in the Sweet 16 and two came against consensus No. 1 North Carolina.
"What happened to this team comes from playing in the ACC and we have played remarkable teams in the NCAA Tournament. We just feel like we are tested," said Baker. "That happens when you play 13 of your last 16 games versus NCAA Tournament teams. It just makes us ready for these types of environments."
The environment FSU played in Friday night was made up of 3,432 Gator fans, which was the fifth largest crowd in Florida soccer history. On the eve of the FSU/UF football game set to be played just a half a block away at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, the Tribe took the large crowd out of the game from the opening whistle.
"To come here on the weekend that it is, with the Florida/Florida State rivalry and the crowd...we didn't let the crowd get into the game until the 87th minute. That is a compliment to our players," said Baker." In September we were down 2-0 and even though we responded well we weren't really in the game."
The victory moved Baker to 4-3 all-time against Florida and 2-0 in the postseason. It was another huge moment for a Florida State soccer team that has made a habit of producing big moments since Baker took charge in 1999. When he led his team on to the field for the first time ever as the Seminole coach it was on the same pitch they played on Friday night. That time it was the Gators who were celebrating a national championship.
"This is special tonight," said Baker. "You have to understand that my first game at FSU was versus Florida in 1999 when they unveiled their national championship banner and promptly went on to kick our butt 5-1. It was the first time we ever scored against then and it was already 5-0 at that point. We were like the ugly stepchild.
"In the last four years we have been to four NCAA Tournaments, two Sweet 16's and now a Final Four. We are still just trying to gain respect whether it is in Florida or nationally. I'd be lying if I said it wasn't special. We take great pride in winning and trying to become the number one team in the state of Florida and that is difficult because Florida has been there so long and set the bar so high. It is very exciting and I am very proud of our players and for all the players that were here before."
Many of those former players were on hand Friday night and they saw the Seminoles get after their rivals from the south the moment the whistle blew. Florida State out shot UF seven to one in the first half and put four of the seven shots on goal compared to none for Florida. They forced Gator keeper Brittni Goodwin to make four saves while FSU starter Joy McKenzie was never tested.
"I think one of the strengths of our team is our combination play through the midfield," said Burleigh. "We never really got into a rhythm, particularly in the first half. We had no rhythm. Part of that is a credit to Florida State for breaking up that rhythm and part of that is our touch was a little bit off. We weren't connecting with our passes. Us keeping possession of the ball would have probably helped us quite a bit."
Florida State's first dangerous opportunity came in the 14th minute. Katie Beal sent a free kick in to the Gator box that was cleared out to the top of the 18. Sophomore Leah Gallegos took a touch and slipped a square ball to the right side across the top of the penalty box to India Trotter. The freshman blasted a low line drive to the far post but the shot just went wide of the frame.
Seven minutes later Gallegos and Camie Bybee combined freeing Gallegos at the top of the 18. The Los Angeles, CA native beat one of the Florida backs and slid a pass to freshman Julia Schnugg out wide. The frontrunner from Alamo, CA went near post with her shot but it was also just wide.
With just four minutes remaining in the first half, Beal had another chance on a free kick that resulted from one of four first half fouls by the Gators. The foul resulted when Gallegos was chopped down with the ball at her feet, as she was just about to cross into the Gator box. Beal, a junior from Alexandria, VA, blasted a shot right down the middle that was dipping under the crossbar but Goodwin was able to punch it over and preserve the tie.
"As the first half wore on, I definitely felt we were gaining momentum," said Jez Ratliff. "The last 10 minutes I just kept telling everyone it was going to come. Unfortunately halftime came before we got one. I thought they were lucky to be tied as we went to half. I knew if we continued to play like we were in the first half we would get a goal."
It didn't take long for Ratliff's prediction to come true. Just 11:11 into the second period Florida State jumped into the lead. Beal served a great ball of a free kick from about 45 yards out. The service was coming down just about eight yards from goal and right to freshman Kelly Rowland. The All-ACC Tournament selection latched on to the service and headed it past Goodwin for the 1-0 lead.
The goal was the sixth of the year for Rowland as she continues to add to her record for points and goals by a freshman defender at FSU. Five of her six goals have some since the regular season ended and all off headers. She is second all-time at Florida State for points and goals by a defender in a single season.
"I think we have always focused on set pieces," said Beal. "A lot of our goals have come on set pieces. We take great pride in them whether they come on a long throw, a corner kick or a free kick. We have great finishers and servers and all they need is a chance on goal."
"It was just another great long service from Beal and I was just able to latch on to it," said Rowland.
The goal sparked FSU as they went on the attack again looking for some insurance. Less than five minutes later the Tribe had another great chance inside the Florida box. An FSU corner kick was cleared to the top of the 18 where Ratliff took a touch and fired a shot through the UF defense that was pulling out of the penalty area. Julia Schnugg was there and just redirected the drive to the near post. Goodwin was unable to recover quickly enough but the shot was wide of the goal.
"We kept plugging away and we feel like we are well balanced in our attack," said Baker. "So we have the long throw-in and anytime someone makes a mistake and plays it out of bounds Kelly (Rowland) will wing it into the box. We have unbelievable services from 60 or 70 yards out from goal with Katie Beal. We have an unbelievable corner kick and we can score in the run of play. We feel like we are multi-dimensional. We feel like we can do some things."
It was another set piece though that helped Florida State build a 2-0 lead. Goodwin punched out Senior Amber Tollefson's corner kick but the ball didn't clear the 18. As it was bouncing out, Ratliff one-timed a half volley past the keeper and into the side netting.
"I was just trying to make the best contact I could from where I was," said Ratliff. "Luckily it got into the net. It was a little insurance and gave us a little easier feeling."
The goal was at least the 15th the Seminoles have scored off of a set piece this season. It has become a huge weapon for the Tribe whether it is a long throw-in by Rowland, a service by Beal or a corner kick by Tollefson, Rachel McDowell or Teresa Rivera. The Seminoles have developed into one of the nation's most dangerous teams on set pieces.
"We knew they were really good on set pieces and both of their goals came on set pieces," said Burleigh. "That was our number one priority, stopping set plays. Both of their goals came off of that. We spent a lot of time in practice emphasizing that. It is hard because they put a lot of pressure on you with the long throw-in and set plays. Obviously they were successful with those."
After the Seminoles went up 2-0, Florida shifted their system as they attempted to save their season from ending on their home field. The Gators had staged a comeback from 3-0 earlier in the tournament versus Ole Miss and the Seminoles let a 2-0 lead slip away the week before when they needed double overtime to beat West Virginia 3-2 in the Sweet 16. So both teams had recent memories of comebacks to inspire them in the final 20 minutes.
"A 2-0 lead is still a dangerous situation but obviously better than 1-0," said Ratliff. "When we got that second one you knew it was going to take something special for them to comeback on us especially with just over 20 minutes remaining."
Florida aggressively pushed numbers forward as they looked to at least cut the lead in half. With the Gators attacking with numbers, the Seminoles adjusted and looked to catch Florida short-handed with less than 20 minutes remaining in the match.
They almost did in the 74th minute when a counter led to a corner kick for the Tribe. The set piece was cleared out but right to Trotter. She sent her shot to the back post beating Goodwin but the Gator defense was positioned to clear it off the line before it went in.
As time ticked down and the Tribe was looking at its second shutout of the 2003 NCAA Tournament, Florida got on the board. Melanie Booth sent a ball from deep on the FSU end line to the back post. With the winds gusting, the service actually swung in and caught the inside of the back post. The ball bounced back out into the center of the box where Megan McMillan was there to clean it up.
"After we went up 2-0 on West Virginia and let them back in the game, that was in the back of our minds," said Ratliff. "After the first goal it wasn't like 'here we go again'. We all had the mentality that it isn't going to happen a second game in a row. We were going to finish this one out."
"I wasn't worried at the end," said Rowland. "After playing 88 minutes, I knew that this team would not let down with two minutes to go."
The Tribe didn't even though the Gators sent as many as 10 players into the attack as time ran off the clock. The Seminoles limited UF to a few desperation tries from outside the 18 but the Gators couldn't mount much of an attack before the Tribe charged the field as the clock hit zero.
One of the biggest keys to the Florida State victory was the play of the Seminole midfield. Tollefson, Ratliff, Bybee and Trotter controlled the match for Florida State and stymied the Gators at every turn despite playing numbers down. The Gators employ five in the midfield and the Tribe's four-player midfield alignment won that battle according to both coaches.
"They probably outplayed us mostly in the midfield," said Burleigh. "I thought their midfield did a really good job both offensively and defensively."
"Our midfielders did a great job in a number's down situation all night," said Baker. "When it became even numbers later in the game it really started to help us a little bit. We talked about how the midfield was going to dictate who won the game and I think you saw that this evening."
Baker also credited his player's preparation for the win. The Seminoles stuck to the game plan all night long and contained the Gators on the flanks, which isn't easy to do considering the team's speed.
"How our team has trained and prepared is such a credit to them," said Baker. "We watched so much video of Florida and as the game was unraveling and I knew exactly what they (our players) were going to do in those situations and they made the plays. Preparation was a huge part of this win tonight."
The victory was the first at Percy Beard Stadium for a visiting team in 20 matches. The Gators came into the game 17-0-2 in their last 19 home games. After knocking off sixth-seeded West Virginia last week, who was 19-1-0 in Morgantown, WV before the Seminoles beat them, FSU's last two opponents combined to have a 36-1-2 home record before FSU knocked them both out of the NCAA Tournament.
With No. 1 North Carolina's 3-0 win over 2001 National Champion Santa Clara, half of the final four will now be made up of teams from the ACC. The Seminoles are the first ACC school other than Carolina to make the College Cup since 1992 and they are just the fourth ACC school to ever play in the final four. The Seminoles are just the third team ever to advance to the final four with seven losses.
"We went from 1-4 to the Final Four so it doesn't matter where you start, it just matters where you finish," said Baker. "I told our players that I apologized to our two seniors when we fell to 1-4 in Kansas. We have a top 10 freshman class. We have three deserved U-19 National Team players and we're 1-4 and searching for answers?
"Just to methodically come all the way back with our only three losses coming to Virginia and two coming to No. 1 North Carolina. I told them they have proven that they can play with the best teams in the country. If we play to our capabilities, stick to our game plan and play well, we have a great chance to be successful. Seems like a simple formula but they step out every day and continue to impress."
Florida State will have the opportunity to put that formula back to work this Friday, December 5 at noon versus either Connecticut (13-5-3) or BYU (16-6-2). The Tribe has never played the Cougars and their only meeting with UConn came last year in the Sweet 16 where the Huskies eliminated FSU 1-0 in Storrs, CT. The game will be televised live to a national television audience at noon on ESPN2.
There will be information all week long on the sixth-ranked Seminole soccer team as they prepare for the College Cup. Check back exclusively to the official athletic website for the Florida State Department of Athletics at www.seminoles.com.