March 27, 2003
Tallahassee, FL - As is the case with every collegiate soccer team in America, the 14th-ranked Seminoles enter their spring season with a lot of goals and even more questions. The Tribe is coming off its second Sweet 16 appearance in the last three years but they will need to replace five key players who were instrumental in the program playing in three straight NCAA Tournaments. Four of those five players were starters including Cindy Schofield, who is the most prolific goal scorer to ever wear the Garnet and Gold.
"One of the biggest things we have to do is reestablish ourselves and see what identity this group is going to have," said head coach Patrick Baker. "We have had an absolutely wonderful run these last three years.
"We just said goodbye at our banquet to five players that have been as integral a part of our success as any other group of players has ever been. They have been here since I came to Florida State and three of those five players I saw two days after I took the job at the Miami Junior Orange Bowl. I spoke to them before I ever saw the team here at Florida State. With that group moving on we have to see if we are good enough with our returning players to compete at a high level."
One of the biggest challenges facing Baker is how to replace two-time All-ACC first teamer and two-time All-American forward Schofield. The striker was the first Seminole to ever record 100 points in a season and she scored 40 goals in her career including 32 over the last two seasons.
"Cindy Schofield leaves our program as the first-ever two-time All-ACC 1st team selection, our first-ever two-time All-American and she will be so tough to replace. We can't rely on one person to replace her production. If we can find a little better balance in the midfield and up top, maybe we can increase our chances and spread the wealth of goals and assists through the rest of the team."
In the midfield, FSU looses holding midfielder Jenny Garcia. One of the Tribe's most underrated players by those outside of Tallahassee, Baker is keenly aware how difficult it will be to replace one of the key players in his 4-4-2 alignment.
"Jenny Garcia was a 90-minute player for us and was recently named team MVP at our banquet. She had a wonderful season and one of our big challenges will be finding someone to step into that role," said Baker.
Defensively, Florida State will use the spring to search for replacements for Ashlee Fontes and Meredith Jones particularly at right back. The seniors combined to start 44 games last season and over the last four years the duo has started 125 games.
"Defending is an area that we will need to address. Meredith Jones and Ashlee Fontes did such a wonderful job in the back and replacing them won't be easy," said Baker. "Teresa Rivera has been just wonderful this spring. Katie Beal is fully recovered from the mono that affected her for most of the 2001 season. Kristin Boyce has been a mainstay in our backline and Jessica Bell has made huge strides in her off-season training. She has created a top-level fitness base for herself that has allowed her to crack our starting line-up."
Two seasons ago, FSU went through the entire spring without a goalkeeper, this year the Tribe will go the distance with junior Joy McKenzie starting every game. Starter Kerry York is sidelined for the spring after surgery and Ali Mims, who split time with York in 2001, is still recovering from a broken leg suffered against Georgia before the start of the 2001 season. McKenzie, a Texas native, will get the opportunity to show the coaching staff what she is capable of.
"We have continually told Joy that this is her opportunity. She hasn't had the chance to gain valuable game situation minutes during her college career but she will this spring," said Baker. "She needs to be on the field with the game in the balance and that will be the case this entire spring. She had a good performance versus the alumna. She had good starting points, cut down angels well, handled balls in traffic very nicely and gave up no second chances so it was a good start. I think collectively the team in front of her did very well also. Joy is out to prove a point though."
The Seminoles kicked off their spring season with the second annual alumna game last weekend. The event, which Baker started in 2002, is much more than a chance for the current FSU players to play a game for the first time. It is a weekend dedicated to recognizing the players who laid the foundation for FSU's current success and for catching up with old friends.
"This was the second year we have done this and it was great," said Baker. "Last year 18 of 22 former players came back and this year 17 players came back to play. It was just awesome to see these young ladies get a chance to play in the complex where some never had the chance to play. Playing under the lights I know meant a lot to them. Some of our more recent alumna got the chance to come back and see familiar faces and it was a good time. The exchange of stories at the cookout Friday night was pretty funny."
As much as the alumna game is a time for catching up and seeing old friends, it is also the first of a slim few opportunities the team has to play in the spring. On that front, the coaching staff has to approach the game more seriously than the returning alumna.
"The game itself was a starting point for next year," said Baker. "We have been able to train and now we get to play some games, which provides feedback. We had been needing that. I think this week's training has been so good because we have been able to get some feedback from that alumna game. We've been able to work on things as we prepare for our next action."
The current crop of Seminoles won the game 4-0 but the score wasn't nearly as important as was the chance to evaluate some of FSU's younger players who rarely stepped out last fall. Not only did some of them get a chance to play but Baker also started six freshmen against the alumna.
"For us to start Erin Brown and Sarah Rosseau, who didn't see a minute of action in the fall, and have those players hold their own together in the midfield was very encouraging," said Baker. "For Stephanie Dame to get her first start and score 15 minutes into the game off a set piece was great. Everyone who stepped in got valuable minutes and we have been preaching that when you step out you need to take advantage of those minutes.
"Returners like Camie Bybee stepped in and did a wonderful job scoring two goals and assisting on another. Leah Gallegos excited people with her skill. Jez Ratliff was getting around the corner with her pace. We had good organization from T (Teresa Rivera) and Beal centrally in the back. Boyce made those great timed runs. Amber (Tollefson) displayed great precision with passing and skill. Bell really did a nice job as an outside right back."
The Tribe will continue its spring schedule as the team travels to Boca Raton, FL this weekend to face the Team Boca U-17's and to participate in the All-Florida event. Florida State opens action Friday, March 28 at 7:00 p.m. versus the U-17's. They return to FAU Saturday to play three, hour-long games. At 10:00 a.m. they will play Barry University. At noon they face the U-18's and then they conclude the weekend's action at 3:30 versus the University of Florida.
"We are going to get to play two teams from Team Boca," said Baker. "We probably have as many players from Team Boca as any college in America so a lot of our players will get a chance to play in front of their parents and friends. At the same time, we will get to see some of the better players in the state match up with our players. That is a nice trade-off. In Saturday's All-Florida event we see a team we don't get to play usually in Barry University. We wrap things up with a match against our archrivals in the Florida Gators. It should be a great weekend."
For obvious reasons, much of the attention will be focused on the Seminoles match-up with the Gators. The Seminoles have won three of the last four meetings between the schools but Baker warns not to read too much into a spring game.
"Florida is very talented and they will probably be one of the most talented teams we will face in the spring. This game isn't going to determine a heck of a lot in the sense of who wins and who loses. It won't count until we head down to Gainesville next fall," said Baker. "Hopefully they perceive us to be a good team. We know they are a good team so we'll get to play for an hour and test ourselves mentally and physically against a quality opponent. That will only make us better in the long run."
Florida State's only home spring game will take place April 5th at 5:00 p.m. when the Seminoles face off against Jacksonville. For more information on the Seminole soccer team and their trip to Boca this weekend, please log on to seminoles.com for all the latest Florida State soccer news.