Nov. 4, 2003
Cary, NC - For the first time in nine years, the Florida State soccer team will take the field at the ACC Championships Wednesday bolstered by a No. 2 seed after the team's second place conference finish. The Tribe has never been seeded higher than third before this year and this is the first time they will take the pitch in at the ACC Tournament in a game that based solely on seeding, they are supposed to win. Talking to the members of the ninth-ranked Seminoles (11-6-1, 4-2-1), you'd never know that was the case.
"We are very pleased that we were able to finish the season in second place and get that second seed," said senior Amber Tollefson. "We aren't satisfied with resting on that. We are well aware that as soon as we step out tomorrow, seeds mean nothing and we are facing a great Wake Forest team."
"When we played them last time, I don't think we played our best," said Katie Beal. "We all we know we can do better but we also know Wake will raise their level as well."
You can't blame the Seminoles for being a little wary. Only one player on the current squad who will suit up Wednesday has ever experienced a win over the Demon Deacons (10-5-3, 1-4-2). Wake owns an all-time lead in the series (7-1-2) and in program history, FSU has won just one ACC Tournament game in eight trips.
"We are excited about representing the conference as a No. 2 seed," said head coach Patrick Baker. "We are playing a very good Wake Forest team and traditionally we have not had a lot of success against them."
On the bright side, FSU has advanced to the semi-finals in two of the last three ACC Championships and the two times the team has moved on, the tournament was held in North Carolina. The Seminoles are just two years removed from playing for the ACC title in 2001 when the tournament was played at Spry Stadium on the Wake Forest campus and the Seminoles have even advanced out of the quarterfinals at the expense of Wake when the teams met in the 2000 tournament.
"Our team enjoys playing in the ACC Tournament, I think our mentality changes," said Baker. "It is great to be the No. 2 seed but we actually advanced past Wake as the No. 7 seed in 2000 so I am well aware of what could happen.
"We put ourselves in a good position but we now need to go out and take care of business. We have to be extremely sharp because Wake is very well coached and very talented. They could easily be much higher than the seventh-seeded squad."
If being the No. 2 seed isn't enough motivation for the Tribe, they only have to look back to this time last year when the ACC Tournament was held on their own field in Tallahassee. Maryland came into the Seminole Soccer Complex and knocked FSU out of the tournament in front of 763 people and a live television audience.
"I hope they take something away from what happened last year," said Baker. "I don't know if that adds up to much but hopefully it is a motivating factor for our returning players. We were finally able to host and we didn't take care of business. We were kind of embarrassed and it was a tough experience for us. One of the ways to distance ourselves from that is to have a really good showing tomorrow versus Wake."
"This year, I think we are defending a lot better as a team at this point than we were at the same time last year," said Beal. "My sophomore year we gave up four goals in the quarterfinals to Maryland. So it is no surprise our team defending will have a huge impact on how we do tomorrow."
Team defending and the play of overlooked keeper Joy McKenzie have carried the Seminoles through the last 13 games where they have posted a 10-2-1 record. The Tribe has allowed just five goals to ACC teams this year, which is the third-lowest total by an ACC team since the conference expanded its soccer league in 1995. Behind FSU's stellar back four, McKenzie had a record-breaking year in net as well. She posted four straight ACC shutouts, a new Seminole record, and had a GAA of just 0.32 in conference play.
With the defense's success came the wins and the high seeding. While the school's best-ever ACC record put the Tribe in second place, it also moved the young up-starts from Tallahassee into a less familiar role. Florida State has always played the underdog in the ACC but with a gaudy No. 2 seed, they will now be one of the hunted teams in Cary this week.
"We have always been the underdog and relished the chance to sneak up on people," said Tollefson. "This year we will have a target on our back. There are four teams in this tournament that we beat and I know they all want another shot at us. We are going to have to raise our fighting mentality."
The Seminoles and Deacons played 110 minutes of scoreless soccer in their conference meeting earlier in the season. The tie was the first-ever between the teams in conference play. The game was the fifth on the road in six outings for the Seminoles and the first they had played in almost four years without senior captain and left back Kristin Boyce, who was injured in the Clemson win three days before.
"This will be a totally different game that the one we played in Winston-Salem," said Tollefson. "I don't think they saw our best game and I don't think we saw their best game either. The stage is different now and we know that they are a good team. It will take us coming in with a bit of confidence and a healthy respect for our opponent if we want to advance."
This will be the second time through the conference for FSU's three freshmen starters, two of which were named to the ACC All-Freshman team Tuesday. With a complete conference schedule under their belts, the five rookies who have seen significant playing time this year will get a chance to apply the lessons they have learned this season.
"Going up against the ACC teams for the second time this year allows us to have a better understanding of what they are capable of and what we are capable of," said Julia Schnugg. "I think we have learned more about ourselves in those games than we have our opponents and that will allow us to improve so much.
"The biggest lesson though was when I came here I thought there would be a break in conference play because maybe some of the teams wouldn't be as challenging as others. I couldn't have been more wrong. There is not an easy game in this conference and that won't be any different versus Wake."
If Florida State is able to advance, they will face the winner of the Maryland/Clemson game Friday, November 7 at 5:00 p.m. A loss would send the Tribe back to Tallahassee where they will await their fate when the NCAA announces the 64-team field for the NCAA Championships, which begin at campus sites a week from Thursday.
"When it is a one-and-done scenario, I think every plays that much harder because nobody wants to go home," said Beal. "If you lose you might not get another chance to step out again. We all have that in the back of our minds so we are going to go out, work hard and play well."
For more information on the 2003 ACC Championships and the Seminole soccer team, please log on to www.seminoles.com, the official athletic department website for Florida State University.