Aug. 29, 2003
Tallahassee, FL - The season opener for the 12th-ranked Florida State soccer team is big in more ways than one. On top of starting off a season that has sparked more excitement than any other, the opener comes against a 19th-ranked USC team and will be played on a Friday night, which has always been a special time for Seminole Soccer.
September 18, 1998 was the last time FSU played a home game on a Friday night and lost. That streak spans 15 games (12-0-3) over five years and includes wins over four ranked teams, two of which were Top 10 programs. Florida State will open the season by laying that streak on the line when the Lady Trojans comes to town for a 7:00 p.m. showdown.
"Opening weekend is a special time and there is so much excitement in Tallahassee for this opener," said head coach Patrick Baker. "I am sure there will be some nerves for both teams. We open with a Pac-10 team for the second straight year and on paper, this is great match-up. I hope the game lives up to its billing."
Friday night hasn't just been special because of the win streak. Seven of FSU's top 10 all-time crowds have come on Friday nights and fans have left happy seeing wins over teams like Florida, Clemson, Texas A&M and Ole Miss to name just a few. The crowd support on Friday nights has become part of FSU soccer tradition and the players know how important and special these nights are.
"There is nothing like playing on a Friday night in this stadium," said sophomore Alli Ferreri. "The lights, the crowds and music contribute to an overall excitement and energy from this team. It shows in the fact that we have never lost here on a Friday night since coach Baker took over. It is unlike any feeling and I am so excited to see the freshmen get that experience for the first time. You can't fully grasp it until you experience it first hand."
"We are all looking forward to playing two excellent teams this weekend. It will be a real test opening with USC and Penn State," said Camie Bybee. "We have been practicing so hard and are ready to step out and get the season started. I think we are ready to step up to the challenge and it is always special to play at home on a Friday night. We always get pumped up with the big crowds."
Friday will also be a special night in particular for two Seminoles. Californian's Leah Gallegos and Julia Schnugg get the added spark of facing a team from their home state. Gallegos grew up just 10 minutes away from the USC campus and played with many current Lady Trojans. Friday night will be the first time Gallegos has faced a team from California in the regular season.
"I am really looking forward to the season opener," said Gallegos. "On top of it being the first game, USC is about 10 minutes from where I grew up. I have played with some of their players. I have played for coach (Jim) Millinder. I know they play at a high-level and it will be a great challenge for us to start the season.
"I considered going to USC because of how close it is to my house When I chose FSU, I never thought we would ever play USC but it is cool that I am going to get that chance Friday."
For Schnugg, a northern California product, she is not only excited about facing USC but also making the first start of her Seminole career. The US U-19 National team player and Parade All-American will be joining Gallegos in the Seminole attack and will be counted to help replace the goals the team lost due to All-ACC striker Cindy Schofield's graduation.
"I am really excited to face USC. I love California and considered staying home for college but I chose Florida State for a reason," said Schnugg. "Playing against a team from my home state is a great way for me to begin my FSU career. It is even more special and exciting considering I get to play against USC with another native Californian in Leah (Gallegos). Deep down we will both be excited and motivated."
Schnugg isn't the only freshman that will be making her first career start Friday as many as four freshmen might start versus USC. Fellow US U-19 National Team member India Trotter will make her Seminole debut in the Tribe midfield after a strong preseason. The South Florida native has been coming to Seminole games for a long time and has experienced the Friday night atmosphere from her seat in the stands.
"It is going to be exciting. Having our opener at home, under the lights, in front of a big crowd and against a very good team is great," Trotter. "We have been working very hard heading into this game and we feel confident. Hopefully the work we put in will translate into a win."
The Seminoles come into Friday night as a consensus Top 15 team for the first time in program history but there has been a confidence building inside the program long before the rankings were released. The 2003 squad is the first team that has never had a losing season at FSU. They are the first group that has been to the NCAA Tournament every year and they are the first squad that was completely assembled by Baker when he had a full year to recruit.
"Our kids are excited about a lot of things. We are excited about what we think we can become most of all," said Baker. "We are excited about getting the season started versus great competition. There are always nerves on the first night and I know there will be times we won't be as clean and as sharp as we will be later in the year but we have worked hard looking towards Friday."
"Our team chemistry is as good as I have ever seen it and there is a strong camaraderie between all of us," said Ferreri. "That is going to help us this weekend and throughout the season."
As positive as the atmosphere is surrounding the Seminole program, the team and Baker know how dangerous USC is. The Lady Trojans made their fifth straight NCAA Tournament appearance in 2002 and advanced to the second round.
"As we have started to focus more of our recruiting efforts on California, I have had the pleasure of running into (USC) coach (Jim) Millinder on the recruiting trail. I have a lot of respect for him and what he has done at Southern Cal," said Baker. "They are a well coached team and they have had a lot of success in their conference and in making five straight trips to the NCAA Tournament. They are very talented both individually and collectively"
With the daunting task of facing two Top 20 teams opening weekend (No. 6 Penn State Sunday), Baker and the Seminoles have endured one of the toughest preseasons in recent memory. >From the start of three-a-days August 13, the team has been working towards Friday night's opener and getting a fast start to the 2003 season.
"I am excited about the potential of this team. We have worked very hard as a staff and as a team to have a great approach every day," said Baker. "We have taken very few steps backwards this preseason and that's important. Whenever we have taken a step backwards the very next session the players have reasserted themselves, brought more energy and put that performance behind us. That is a wonderful thing about this team."
Friday night's opener marks the fourth straight year FSU has opened the season under the lights on a Friday night. Last season, 954 fans came to watch the Seminoles begin the 2002 campaign, the 10th largest crowd in program history. The crowd was also the second largest ever at FSU for a season opener. The Tribe will need that type of support all weekend and is looking to break the all-time mark of 1,282 that was set in a season opening win versus Florida in 2000.
If you are unable to attend Friday night's match, follow all the action through Live Stats brought to you exclusively at www.seminoles.com, the official website for the Florida State athletic department.